September 1st – The first day of Spring
Awaking at dawn to a bright red line across the horizon, azure blue sky overhead speckled with stars, the first birdsong gently bringing the farm to life; one appreciates the incredible beauty of living in rural surroundings.
My first port of call for the day is preparing the sourdough bread (see recipe) and putting it aside to rise before breakfast.
Work starts with feeding the animals an early morning chore, especially through the winter. Today I am milking the 5 goats that have been milked over winter, whereas the pregnant does are dry at present and beginning to look like beached whales - they are very imminent.
The goats get a mixed feed of crushed barley with linseed flake, alfalfa chaff, bran, seaweed and minerals, magnesium, copper, sulphur and dolomite with molasses. We feed the same mix to our milking does, yearling does, buck and wethers (castrated males) but also give the does silage ad lib , the yearlings and the boys get hay.
Every morning we are also shifting the electric fence giving our small beef suckler herd another strip of grass. They are all in calf (apart from the bull calf). We also 3 younger cattle who get the leftovers from the goats, as goats are extremely fussy eaters and leave half their hay and drop their silage on the floor if they can find a better bit!
Once the animals are fed and the does all in the paddock we start on the gardens. Since we have both been away over the winter (at separate times) we are pressing on as fast as we can with cultivation work but the ground is already very dry.
I start with the flats near the creek, the soil is light and sandy there but very weedy and we need to try and get rid of as much of the early annual weeds as possible before they set seed. I like working with a right-angled drag breaking the sod and pulling out weeds as I go but it’s not fast.
When I have done enough I start digging leeks and parsnips and pulling swedes and turnips for market; I find it is good to plan a few jobs in one place to make a bit of variety but make sure you have all the tools and things you need for the jobs to avoid wasting time.
After gathering all the veg, I feel the need for sustenance and the call of fresh baked bread and pumpkin soup (see recipe) gets the better of me.
Today and tomorrow are the first days this spring to sow beetroots, parsnips, carrots and radish and I am determined to prepare the ground where I have just dug leeks. There’s a few weeds to get rid of especially at the edges where the couch grass is invasive. The underground roots need to be completely removed any little bits left behind will grow new grass which will send out more runners. Grasses give out chemical messages, which prevent good vegetable growth.
The soil had a good heavy dressing of compost before we planted the leeks making it perfect for root crops, which tend to fork if fresh compost is added to the soil and we also add gypsum, seaweed and a general organic fertilizer with lots of naturally sourced minerals.
The garlic is now up, the first planting was made a few weeks ago - not right in mid winter as it was too wet to work the soil. I am doing a final planting today as I have a little space left on the end of the block. I cover the garlic when I first plant it as it stops the birds investigating and pulling the clove out of the ground, then when its up I can remove the cover. The ground where the garlic is growing had a heavy application of compost about a full wheelbarrow to 5 sq. metres and gypsum, ash and seaweed.
Our standard this year is one cup of "Fertilizer New Zealand" organic garden fertilizer with boron ( we found this was lacking in our soil) per 2 sq. metres, the same of seaweed and 2 litres of gypsum per 5 sq. metres to help break down clay soils and stop slaking on the lighter ones. It generally improves any soil structure.
The sowing of the beetroot, carrot (sow thinly) and radish had to wait until the following day as the animals needed their evening feed and the light was fading.