Breakfast Burgers

A little while ago we found ourselves without bacon (well, the next lot of bacon hadn’t finished curing yet, which is approximately the same thing), but we did have some pork mince. The obvious thing to do was make breakfast burgers!

The patty recipe is based on this Grilled Pork Burger recipe, but I got rid of the breadcrumbs and changed the herbs a bit. The ingredients are as follows:

  • 2 small eggs
  • 3 good size handfuls of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large handful fresh parsley, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1kg pork mince

To prepare the mince, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk briefly with a fork. Add the parmesan, parsley, salt and garlic powder, and keep whisking until it’s evenly mixed. Add the pork mince and mix it the whole lot up thoroughly with your hands. You can put cling wrap on top and keep the mix in the fridge, then dig out and form into patties on an as-needed basis over the course of a few days.

For the breakfast experience, you will need:

Slice the onions and cook in a pan with a bit of lard, oil or butter (whatever you have handy). Once they’re on the way, heat an electric hotplate (or separate pan), and put the patties on. 180°C works well. Again, use a little lard, oil or butter to avoid sticking. The patties want 4-5 minutes per side. After you’ve flipped them for the first time, wait 2 minutes, then cover with grated cheese, which will proceed to melt. Fry some eggs while you’re waiting for the patties to finish (hint: fry in butter until mostly cooked, then put a lid on briefly which will just seal the tops with steam, and leave the yolks runny). Finally, the onions go on top of the cheese-covered patties, and everything goes onto plates.

Bon appétit!

On Nature

I came across an article the other day entitled Humanity ‘Sleepwalking Towards the Edge of a Cliff’: 60% of Earth’s Wildlife Wiped Out Since 1970, and while I applaud the thrust of the article (we’re collectively doing a great deal of damage, and may ultimately wipe ourselves out), the framing, like so many other pieces of this type, is all wrong. Consider this quote:

“human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations”

The statement about our future notwithstanding, this reduces “nature” to an external thing that we have some sort of power over, when in fact the exact opposite is true.
Nature is not separate from humanity, it’s not an amenity or a tourist attraction, it’s not something we just experience on the weekends, a place we choose to go camping, or to dump our garbage in when nobody is looking.
Nature is a vast cyclical process of life and death, of which humanity is just one relatively insignificant yet insufferably arrogant piece. We each participate in it, all day, every day.
Nature is the song that surrounds us now, and one that will carry on well after we are gone.
We need to listen to that song, and learn to sing along with it.

Wildlife Monitoring

In December 2016 we participated in a community wildlife monitoring program, run as a collaboration between the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, Kingborough Council, the Bruny Island Environment Network, Bruny Island Community Association, Private Land Conservation Program, NRM South, Derwent Catchment NRM, BirdLife Australia and the University of Tasmania. The idea is to establish a network of long-term wildlife monitoring sites on private land, to figure out what lives where and how our native animal populations are faring over time.
For us, this meant setting up a wildlife monitoring camera for a few weeks, and taking an audio recording of bird calls one morning for about 20 minutes. At the end of the period we went through the photos, deleted the irritatingly large number of photos of moving shadows and vegetation, and recorded the actual wildlife spotted in a spreadsheet. The same thing is being done on many different properties over a wide area. The results of the research from this pilot program should be available some time this year (2017), and hopefully another round will be done in future at the same sites to see what’s changed over time.
Aside from the small family of skinks living in the log the camera was pointed at, we got photos of some combination of pademelons, Bennetts wallabies, spotted-tailed quolls, eastern-barred bandicoots, bettongs, brushtail possums and at least one echidna. Here’s some choice shots:
IMAG0006IMAG0247 IMAG0715 IMAG1341 IMAG1672a IMAG2442
…and here’s a video of the entire set of interesting photos, one frame every two seconds to make everything reasonably easy to identify:

Finally, if you’ve got a pile of JPEG images you want to turn into a video like the above, and you’re running Linux, something like this should do the trick:

# ffmpeg -f image2 -framerate 25 -r 0.5 -i %*.JPG -s 640x480 my-video-file.avi

How to Make Rough Cider

Rough cider, or scrumpy, is trivial to make at home, and delicious. All you need is apples, a means of juicing them, and a source of yeast. For that matter, it’s trivial to make anything beer-like in strength. I’ve never understood jurisdictions that prohibit or limit home brewing – as is pointed out in the rather excellent Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation, if you want 5% alcohol, you can get it by combining four litres of water, half a kilo of sugar and some yeast.
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The Inaugural Chicken Husbandry and Slaughtering Workshop

Last weekend we held our first chicken husbandry and slaughtering workshop. This resulted as a lot of the people who get eggs from us ask us what they can do with the cockerels they hatch. For health reasons we don’t offer to take them back. Plus it’s ideological. If one is going to hatch eggs we feel one should be prepared for the inevitable results of that hatching i.e. there will be some blokes. Pretty much guaranteed really. Too many people abandon cockerels by the side of the road here. It’s really sad and there is no excuse for abandoning any animal one is responsible for. My first advice to people asking what they can do with their unwanted cockerels is always that they should eat them. Honestly they will be the best chicken you have ever eaten. This elicits two types of response. One is “I don’t know how to kill them” and the other is “I could never do that”. For the latter we offer a couple of suggestions. The Raptor and Wildlife Refuge of Tasmania does accept live roosters. You can find more information here. You can also contact Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. They have some devils and may be interested in taking cockerels. Any place that has captive devils may be interested in taking cockerels. For the former we ran this workshop.
The very frosty cold day kicked off with a tour of the farm during which we explained our husbandry practices. We talked about how to house your chooks, discussed how and how much to feed them, and discovered how to make sure they are well and happy. But soon the moment of truth was upon us and participants had to chop off their first chook head. There was some trepidation, mostly people wanted to make sure they weren’t going to cause the chook any suffering. Facing such existential realities as death can be confronting. It is especially so in our society, which is living in denial of death. But in the end everyone got their chook’s head off very quickly and efficiently.
dave and cone sm
Soon we were in the midst of a giant pile of feathers as everyone plucked their chook. It was awesome to see everyone pitching in and helping each other pluck their chooks.
Happy plucking sm
Once all chooks were plucked it was over to the big table for instruction in gutting. We explained the process in brief, then demonstrated on one bird: remove the feet, the crop, the neck, then slit across the underside below the vent, reach up inside and pull the innards out, then finally cut around the vent, and you’re done. After that, everyone started on their own chooks. Some attendees were faster, some slower, but everyone got the job done well. Reactions to the various sensual assaults varied, “Wow, it’s still really warm inside this bird”, “I’m nervous about using too much pressure when pulling the guts out in case I rupture an intestine or something” — “It’s OK, you need more force than you think you want to apply, but then suddenly it all just works smoothly”, “I’ve done this before, but your method of cutting around the vent is easier that I used to do”, “Is this meant to smell like this?”.
dressing chooks sm
As we sat around the fire and ate chickeny dishes there was much discussion of farm life in Tasmania. It was interesting to hear the diverse perspectives on raising one’s own food, both animal and vegetable. Some themes were agreed on by all, the satisfaction of producing one’s own foods, the strange priorities of government, the need for awareness of animal rearing practices, and the desirability of sustainable systems.
We had more people wanting to do the workshop than we could accommodate so we have decided to do another one on the 3rd of July. Please email me to book.
 

And Then The Rains Came Down…

Ok, so maybe we jinxed it by posting about how little rain we had had this year. We have had 176mm of rain in the last three days. 78mm of that in the last 24 hours, and it’s still raining…
Remember our last post where we bemoaned our dam looking like this.top dam low apr 2016
Well now it looks like this.top-dam-super-full-June-2016-sm
Our rainfall graph, which looked like this.
rainfall-october-2010-to-march-2016
Now looks like this.
rainfall-october-2010-to-june-2016 

The Tragic Tale Of The Rain We Totally Didn't Have

Water is one of the essentials of farm life. It is also one that we tend to take for granted, especially here in southern Tasmania, renowned as it is for being cold and wet. However the times they are a changin’, and much that once was is lost. This image shows the sad state of our rainfall for the last five years. i.e. an ever diminishing curve, interspersed with extreme events.
rainfall-october-2010-to-march-2016
But graphs are hard to parse. So here are some images that show what the numbers translate to in real life.
August 2015top dam full aug 2015
January 2016top dam mid jan 2016
April 2016top dam low apr 2016
So, basically, doom. Fortunately this is only one of our three dams. Unfortunately only one of the other two, our largest dam, from which we get water to flush our toilets and to water the garden, still has water in it. It is however at the lowest level we have ever seen it, and shrinking rapidly.
We are in a much better position than many of our neighbours. One reason is that we are at nearly 400 metres elevation. Because of this it is a bit cooler than in the valley and we get some moisture from clouds that are passing even if they don’t rain as they have to rise over our hill to continue on their journey eastward.
Another reason is we don’t have much stock. On our ten hectares, 25 acres in the old money, we have six sheep, two miniature cows, two pigs and all the chickens. The cows and two of the sheep are here as refugees. They belong to my sister who lives lower down in the valley and who consequently has no grass at all. Next month we will be getting our own miniature cow, but still that is not a lot of load for the land.
Because we don’t have a heavy load of stock we were able to make hay. We got about a third of the hay we grew last year due to the lack of rain. Hay was in very high demand this year as no one else grew as much as usual either. Because of our stocking rate we actually need very little hay for winter. Only if someone is confined to a shed for say, lambing, and we have to feed them will we need hay. This meant we were able to swap our hay for straw, which was also in high demand due to the lack of rain. We need straw for bedding for the pigs, they need to be kept warm and dry in winter, and for flooring and nest lining for the chickens. Pigs will also eat barley straw. For the rest of the animals there should be  enough grass to keep them going through the winter, unless we don’t get any rain before it gets so cold the grass stops growing for winter…
 
 
 

A Dam Intake That Doesn't Suck

We live on a fairly steep hill. The house is slightly more than 340 metres above sea level, and there’s a large dam half way up the length of the property, at an altitude of about 370 metres. Some clever person installed a run of one inch diameter poly pipe from the dam down to the house with various tap fittings along the way, so we’re able to use gravity fed dam water in troughs for animals, and to water the garden beds, and even inside the house to flush the toilets (which is much better than wasting potable tank water).
Given the abysmal rainfall in recent months, the dam is the lowest we’ve ever seen it. The last time it got close to this low was during what I like to call the “eight month summer” of 2012-2013. So the water level has been receding towards the intake for the pipe that goes down the hill, and that intake was only a couple of metres from the edge of the dam, and sitting on the dam floor where all the silt, sediment and weeds live. On the Easter long weekend, while watering down by the house, the feed from the dam stopped. The water pressure had actually been poor for some time, but it was then that we completely lost the siphon action. Time for a new dam intake.
The existing intake consisted of a bucket with holes drilled in the lid, containing a fish pond filter, with a tap and pipe coming out the top. There were rocks in the bottom of the bucket to weigh it down.
20160328_163952This is not ideal. Really, you want the intake to be close to the surface of the water where crap won’t get sucked up, so we went and bought a 200mm polystyrene float and a foot valve, which looks a bit like this. That’s probably not the exact model I purchased, but you get the idea – it’s a grille over a ball valve with a spring, which allows water to be sucked out of the dam, but if you have to pull the intake out of the dam to clean or inspect it, the valve won’t let water flow the other way, so you don’t risk losing the siphon.
Conveniently we had an extra length of 1″ poly pipe lying around, so I attached the foot valve and float to the end of that and was able to extend the feed further out into the middle of the dam. Turns out I did need to lash a small rock to the end of the pipe to hold the foot valve under the water, but it’s now just slightly below the surface as opposed to slightly above the dam floor, so the water is much cleaner.
20160328_164525In the above photo, the white ball is the float. For comparison, the old bucket intake was pretty much where the end of the left-hand chunk of wood is.
Then came the fun part — restarting the siphon. There’s a gate valve a little way north of the house above all the other taps that feed off the dam pipe, so I closed that, then went back up to the dam.
20160328_164216The pipe that leaves the dam goes over a rise, but there’s a convenient join in the middle, so I disconnected the pipe there, and we put a funnel made from an old juice bottle into the pipe that runs down the hill. Morgan held this end up high, while I got buckets of water from the dam and poured them into the funnel to re-fill as much as we could of the ~170 metres of pipe. The amazing part about this is how the water behaves. You start pouring it in, it slowly goes down the funnel and disappears. Then a few minutes later there’s gurgling noises as air works its way back up the pipe, half the water you poured in is forced back out of the pipe into the funnel, then it all subsides again. It’s actually a lot of fun, and of course you end up soaking wet due to various minor mishaps.
Once we figured no more water was going down the pipe, we reconnected it to the intake at the top of the rise, then I went back down to the house, opened the main gate valve, turned on a hose, and water… came… out… very… slowly… There was sporadic coughing and spluttering from the pipes as air shunted around, but I was worried we hadn’t put enough water in to kickstart the siphon properly. So I went to the filter a few metres down from the main gate value and unscrewed the bottom cap.
20160328_164126This presumably created the clearest, widest flow of water/suction possible. When the flow slacked off, I put the palm of my hand over the bottom to seal it and waited until the water pressure built up again. Once this became slightly uncomfortable, I removed my hand and water blasted out. I had to repeat this maybe half a dozen times until (I assume) all the air was bled and proper pressure restored.
Then it was back down to test the lower taps on a couple of garden beds, which showed better water pressure that we’ve seen any time in the last few years. I call that a win.
For my next trick, I’ll replace the main gate valve. The damn thing seems to have developed a small drip.