• Posted on: 22 March 2020
  • By: MrWurster

Oh dear, blink and six months goes by.

Last note was September. Since then we've had drought conditions, been evacuated (only once) for bushfire, cut our hay, put the pigs into the freezer. Its almost olive harvest again.

So this is a catchup summary.

The pigs vs blackberries was not a success. They made an impact, but not enough. In simple terms they didn't dig deep enough, didn't eat the blackberry rootballs. Where we followed them and hand-dug the roots out there are no blackberries, but it was too much work and we only did a small area at the start.

I marked out a test area and sprayed. Not what I wanted, but if what we want doesn't work we have to do something else. Even the spraying was only partially successful. Months later you can see its only killed about 60% of the blackberry plants in the sprayed area. It will need more than one spray.

We aren't doing pigs this year. I'm giving it a rest to forget how much work it was before we do it again. The bacon and pork we have is amazing, but it wasn't cheap. It worked out, with winter feed costs, butcher fees and the original cost of the pigs to be about $16 a kilo.

One of the reasons I was resistant to evacuating during the fires was that our calves were due at that time. In the end I went, and the calves were born late by two weeks. We sold of most our cows last year when the drought conditions made it impossible to keep them well fed, so we only had three calves this year. The last one was beautiful, but smaller and not very strong. She made some headway over the next few days, but had trouble keeping up with her mum, and I noticed she was arching in a constipated way at times.

It all came to a head on day three. My wife rang me to say that she had noticed the calf's mum by herself and calling in an agitated way. I went and looked for the calf. In the furthest paddock I spotted her, head sticking up out of a hollow. I walked over and she watched me come closer. She didn't get up and run off, which is what I expected, and I ended up standing above her looking down into the hollow. The shock of it made me gasp….she had what appeared to be an umbilical hernia, and her organs were spilt out on the ground. Sometimes its fixable, but this wasn't, and I had to put her down. Awful.

One of the positives that came out the pigs was that I plugged away at getting on the green recycling program for a local supermarket. It took a lot of perseverance, and a surprising amount of money (new bins, liability insurance) to get it started. A year on its working ok for me. Three times a week I collect about one 240lt wheelie bin of green "waste"….unsold vegetables, outer leaves from lettuce and cabbage, and sometimes almost perfect items. If the sheep, geese and cows don't eat it I compost it.

And the vegie garden it starting to show good results from our heavy investment of labour. Last year we terraced the sloping paddock that is the vegie garden. We also started a serious program of improving the soil, which included collecting cow manure, and some 15 trailer loads of autumn leaves. Now you can visibly see the difference between the raw red clay silt beds and the richer improved black composted beds.

This summer we had the best crops we've ever had of cataloupes, pumpkin, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and lettuce. We still have a long way to go….our stunted silverbeet plants clearly show the ph imbalance they are dealing with, and we've had mediocre results for the heavy lifters like carrots, onions and potatoes. But I am optimistic we are on the right track.

Next year's tomatoes will be grown on top of a 6 square metre bed that's been three huge compost heaps for a year, and we'll build the new heaps on a resting bed.

When we terraced the beds we used what my wife calls scrap timber. I called it a resource. Its all woodchip now, and we are slowly replacing those timber fragments with hilariously arty poured concrete walls. So far we've only done the strawberry bed, and built a walled entrance to the current cage, but they look amazing.

I've had more time this year to do stuff on the farm. I've had very little paid work. The extra time is good, but the lack of money coming in is frustrating. Olive harvest starts soon and I'm expecting a few weeks work from that.