Sunday, 9 August 2015

Winter is coming.... except it's already here!

Well, my romantic notion that winter is supposed to be a time of rest was proved total bunk last year, and this year is driving the scale of my misjudgement home.

Most of our apples had been picked by the end of April, however we ran out of bins just before we finished, and had to wait for some more to become available before we could pick more.  When we finally got our act together we counted up our total harvest: 428 bins.  We still have a few last Fujis hanging on for our pigs and for the possums and birds, but to pick that many bins was an epic effort, and our first “true” harvest.  We didn’t get the clean fruit we wanted, but we learned a lot, and are in a much better position for this coming season.

We did quite a bit of building after the season finished, closing in a workshop area for our tools and providing some cover for the new machinery.  It was a lengthy project, and while at times I thought we would never get it finished, we now have somewhere to work when the weather turns bad, and I feel better having our tools locked up at night.

Room for the tractor and sprayer

Shane and I build a polytunnel for growing some serious veges this coming season
 Our little farm house was substantially finished in May, so we pushed the button and moved in.  There are still a few things outstanding on it, but it has been a cozy refuge through winter, and I look forward to a time when I can do quite a bit more sitting and reading in the study.  It is a house that was designed for our lifestyle, from the first through to the last.  We have a big mudroom to leave our muddy boots and coats (any Tasmanian will tell you this is a necessity), a cool storeroom for making cider and storing prosciutto, a pantry for all our preserves and jams, a big bathroom with under-floor heating, an open-plan kitchen and living room, a study/library and most importantly, lots of insulation and a cracking wood stove.  We just need to get a big farmhouse table and then we will take a few photos and put them up here.

Our little house

My birthday rolled around in July, and in my honour Willie Smiths put on a 3-day Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest, complete with 50 top notch food providers, cracking live music and fire, fire and more fire.  To put it in perspective they had Dan shooting a flaming arrow into a massive burning man built on a pontoon on a dam!  OK, they may not have put it on for my birthday, but with so many of our friends joining us there it felt like the best party you could have.  It was up there with my 30th birthday, when 30 of us took over the basement of a London Cuban bar and played table soccer and drank ice cold cervezas all night.  This year I really missed our London friends, but they are scattered all over the globe (and Sydney) with kids, so catching up with them will have to wait for another time.

Our 4th of July BBQ bonfire

Dan fires up his arrow...

....and the Burning Man is underway!

Shortly after the Mid-Winter Festival, we were privileged enough to host the inaugural Australian Network of Organic Orchardists conference here in the Huon Valley.  We had two days of discussions, and it was brilliant to see people from all over take different approaches to solving the same problems.  The network is going to become a great place for the exchange of information, ideas and assistance, and we are so happy to be involved.  We were really impressed with the enthusiasm, grit and sheer entrepreneurial spirit evident in this diverse group of individuals. In the afternoons of both days we toured orchards in the valley, including Neil Fuller’s at Surges Bay, Andrew Smith’s at Grove, and mortifyingly, ours!  We really didn’t think we had anything to contribute, just 2 years into what will be a VERY long project, however fellow growers seemed to be interested in our experiment with sheep and livestock in the orchard.  I hope that as we improve the functioning of our orchard with our animals there will be more things that we can contribute to the group.

Neil helps Shane and I press some apples for our very own cider experiment
The work in the orchard has continued apace, with clearing of trees and preparing for next season our top priority.  That said we have had some time to finally get our pigs mated, with farrowing planned for September/October.  It has been too long since we had piglets!

The sickly looking trees that we are removing

We mulch them where we can...

...and burn them if we can't.

Barry meets the girls

The recent rain meant the pigs eradicated their grass super-quick.... we gave them dream shelters in the bush!
Finally, the weather has really been turning it on for us this winter.  Our apple trees are sure to get their required chilling hours to bloom this year, we have had some really cold bursts, with one Antarctic storm bringing snow!  It was amazing to walk around the orchard as the snow came down, I should have taken photos, but left my phone in the house in my eagerness to be outside in the middle of it all.  The rain followed shortly after and we had streams popping up everywhere, it was like being a kid again, putting on the gumboots and walking around to see where the water was running.  Today it has been sunny, warm, and I am working in shirtsleeves.  It is another special day when we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but the Huon Valley in Tasmania.

A crunchy start to the day

The start of the snowfall

Here it comes!

The orchard looks magical

Just another incredible day in the Huon Valley on Our Mates' Farm