Adventures in Cider Making

pears and apples for cider

Greetings People!
Things have been a bit chain rattling around Citadel Kalahari lately, getting ready for something I’ve wanted to achieve for some time; and that’s brewing our own grog. Foolishly, my thought train went like this: Toss in a few grapevines, squash the buggers up and “Hey presto!”, enjoy the fruits of my labour…well that’s what I thought ;-(.

Unfortunately, Wifey had other plans…firstly there were the twenty odd plum and citrus trees that appeared on the shopping trolley. Perhaps it was the shock to my wallet at the check-out that blind-sided me to the fact that I was going to have to dig the bloody holes to plant the buggers! Sadly, that simplicity was not what Wifey had in mind. During the drive home Wifey outlined her grand plan that the “Orchard” would be a grand affair, rising several metres from the ground, the structure would a roofed concern of nets and wire. I was speechless from the shock of this revelation, but the seal was set, when, Wifey announced to round off her sales pitch, was, “I’ll help out.” Similar promises should have alerted me to the fact that “I’ll help out.”, meant Wifey would provide cool drinks while she watched me provide the labour. I’ll not mention her cracking a nasty bull whip and hurtful comments hurled as she shaded herself on the porch.

And that, was just the beginning! Other orchards of table apples, cider apples and nut trees followed. But true to her word, Wifey helped out by providing cool drinks while she watched me tunnel to China for each new tree.

mojito
But bugger the initial endeavours, on with the brewing! I purchased a HUGE wine press that I’ve earmarked for restoration – a really beautiful piece of history. My second purchase was an 18 litre winepress, more realistic to my needs. However, my engineer’s eye perceived that it needed to be mounted on wheels to allow easy transport and provide a solid base when in use. This resolved and $20.99 in my pocket (from which I was soon parted) I purchased a trolley. After some banging and profound swearing emanating from the shed, the press and trolley emerged as one.

apple press
My next planned purchase was a fruit mulcher/shredder. My enthusiasm was deflatingly gutted as I pursued what was on offer. Hand operated models seemed more like items of mediaeval torture and powered ones were priced unrealistically – no doubt driven up by desperate people who’d foolishly bought the hand operated ones first. But seriously, I felt that this little boy’s Mother had raised someone who could build a better one. For once I was right. A quick scan of eBay and I was in the car and off to the door of a hopeful seller offering “a dream garden shredder for only $180”. Poor chap was taken back as I expertly stripped the shredder naked while muttering disappointedly, “Ahh, Fawk.”, under my breath. Wifey played her part too, by offering, “Can you fix it Dear? Or is it broken?” My reply was to fix this sharp salesman with an accusatory glare and spat, “Does it work?”. “Yyyyes,” he muttered, holding up the trailing extension cord he’d answered the door with. And he was right, so moments later we left with the shredder in the car and a limp $60 in his bewildered hand.

More banging and profound swearing emanating from the shed and the modified and refurbished mulcher strained at its chain ready to devour any innocent and ignorant enough to stray into its path.

fruit mulcher

 

A trial run of apples and pears demonstrated its expert proficiency and this convinced us to do a trial batch of cider. At this very moment 3 demijohns are bubbling away, hinting at the yeast busy at work. If all goes well I’ll be sucking on a cider or three. If not, Wifey will have some grand vinegar.

pears and apples for cider

Cleanliness may be is next to Godliness, but where brewing is concerned, if your preparation is not meticulously clean, then you’ll have vinegar instead of wine. So apply the 10 P rule… PAINFULLY PITIFUL PREPARATION PRODUCES PROFANELY PUGNACIOUS PISS POOR PARTY PRODUCTS.

Cheers, Robbie.

Encouraging Growth

fried potatoes and sausage

Thunder is rumbling in the distance, giving the hope of a bit of rain that we desperately need. C’mon rain!!!

storm clouds in Allora

The weather is always a bit madcap around here. One moment we’re parched and sizzled, the next shivering as wind hurtles through the trees and rain pelts against windows and tin sheds. I’ve learned so much living in such extremes. When you can’t depend on the weather to nourish crops and animals, you have to let go and run with it. Flexibility and creativity are essential.

Gardening is one area that tests me regularly. After three years experimenting with hundreds of plants, I’m figuring out what works best in our soil (black and heavy in some spots, brown and gravelly in others), what thrives in drought AND flood, and what can survive the attentions of bugs, cabbage moths, grasshoppers, and innumerable other creatures.

I no longer attempt broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbages. No matter how faithfully I dust them with powder, they’re always decimated by cabbage moths and cut worms. I can grow red cabbages and red Brussels sprouts, however, because for some reason, insects can’t stand them. This is quite a thrill, I tell you.

Herbs also do well here, as do root veggies (when there’s enough water), and tomatoes. Asparagus grows like a weed, thank goodness, and fennel and artichokes are finding their feet.

Bit by bit I’m building gardens that suit our palates and the crazy weather. As I learn how to help my plants, it inspires me personally to figure out what helps me thrive. Encouraging me to remove the things that tear me down and suffocate my spirit, while gathering close the people and experiences that nourish my soul and help me flourish.

Regardless of what happens outside (and in!), a good, hearty breakfast is always a comfort. Our local butcher has fantastic sausages in all sorts of flavors: beef, garlic, and red wine, lamb with roasted tomato and parsley, chicken with cheese and sage. Fried and sliced, they go beautifully with caramelized onions and potatoes. Such hearty fare keeps us going through planting, weeding, and harvesting.

fried potatoes and sausage

What grows well in your part of the world? xo

Storms and Apples on the Farm

lap of apples

It’s so good to be back writing here again after an extended break to write my history book. It is done and dusted now, the launch taking place in less than two weeks! Lots of excitement about that. :-)

It’s been a stormy sort of January with wild winds and skies full of dark brooding clouds. Sometimes the storms bring a cool reprieve from stifling heat and others bring sweltering humidity along with them.

goats in the grass

Whatever form they take, I do love a good storm. The rains have been such a gift, turning our parched, dry land into a lush oasis of waist high grasses perfect for hungry Kalahari goats.

Our Maremma dog, Apollo, has turned from a cuddly puppy into a wonderful guard for our Kalahari goat stock. He is a second mother to all the babies, licking them clean, babysitting while their Mums go off for a much-needed break and a good feed. We adore him.

Maremma guarding goats

When I can I like to take a break from house, farm, and writing work to sit in the grass with my dog Luna and watch the storms roll in over the hills and above the bush. The wind feels so good, and the reprieve from fierce sunlight is luscious. Luna loves it as much as I do, dashing back for pats and ear-scratches in between lizard hunting around fallen logs.

sitting in the grass

Stormy days are also good for my artwork, wood-burning, since it’s too hot during regular summer days. It’s so nice to curl up in a cozy chair with my tools, listening to audio books or chatting with Bear while I work. I’ve started a new line of cutting boards and can’t wait to have them in the shoppe ready for sale.

cutting board

We just harvested the first apples from our newly planted orchard, and that was so exciting. They’re only babies, too small and too few to do much with them, but they taste delicious and give us a hint of bounty to come in the years ahead. I’m excited about future days of using our apples for juicing, baking, canning, and making hard cider.

lap of apples

We finished fencing in the apple orchard and erected the arches needed for bird netting, and soon we will get the netting up to protect our precious trees from marauding wildlife. In the meantime, our Muscovy ducks are doing a splendid job keeping the weeds down and fertilizing the ground.

I’ve learned that in farming, everything worth anything takes a long time and a lot of work, but it’s always worth it. Bit by bit we get closer to self-sufficiency with orchards, gardens, eggs, meat animals, and all that sort of thing. It’s hard work, but we love it.

freshly picked apples

What are you excited about at your house this season? xo

How to Make Your Garden Critter-proof

garden cage

After replanting my garden FIVE times in the past year due to my garden being eaten by an array of critters – goats, possums, rats, mice, birds, etc – I was bound and determined to do something to make gardening feasible.

A fortified fence kept the goats out but even basic cages wouldn’t keep the rats, possums, and mice at bay.

So Bear and I went off to the hardware store and found a big roll of snake and mouse-proof wire with tiny squares that would keep everything out. Yay!!!

garden cagesWe went to the thrift store and found old table frames and other metal frames that would be excellent frames for our critter-proof cages.

garden cageBear built solid wood bases for each cage, then we got out our drills and rolls of wire and folded, twisted, and bolted the cages into shape.

a garden cageAs they were completed I shifted them into my garden, using them to house tender seedlings and keep them safe.

They’ve worked brilliantly!!! It is such a thrill to go out to my garden each day and see tiny green sprouts thriving knowing that within a couple of months – barring any other disasters – we will be eating cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnips, parsnips, radishes, broccoli, celeriac, and other deliciousness.

seedling cageIt was downright discouraging to have my garden eaten to the ground so many times, but it is so exciting now to know that we’ve fixed the problem. :-)

hollyhocks in the rainHave you ever faced gardening disasters? How did you deal with them? xo

Goats in Autumn Sunshine

kalahari red billy goat

We’ve had stunningly beautiful Autumn weather this week. Warm and sunny with soothing golden light that makes you happy to be alive.

To give our winter pastures time to restore before the cold weather hits, Bear and I have been taking our goats for daily treks into the bush to feast on brambles and weeds.

herding kalahari goats

They love it out there! They amble happily from one bramble patch the next, their coats covered in prickles and stickers as they nosh on their favorite bushes.

After their feast in the woods, we bring them back to the damn yard to wander over the hills and nibble at newly sprouted weeds and leafy trees.

goats in a valley

Most of the time we let them in and go up to the house, but sometimes I like to sit on the hillside and watch them, marveling at their personalities and quirks, admiring their glossy coats that positively gleam in the setting sunlight.

kalahari billy goat

I feel very lucky to get to raise these gorgeous animals and see them thrive. Sometimes they drive me batty when they bust through fences or make a banquet out of my garden, but mostly they are delightful.

kalahari red billy goat

What are some of your favorite moments on your homestead? xo