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Rainbow Valley Farm – Cheese, Cheer, & Compost

It’s been a wonderful month here at Rainbow Valley Farm. I’ve learned a lot, and have appreciated seeing an established “permaculture system” at work. We’ve been busy, but I’ll try to catch you up on all of it.

I also thought I would post a few pictures of the farm so you can get a better idea of where I’ve been.

Passive solar design of the main house makes it cool place to escape to in the hot hot heat! I love the turf roof

View of the left side of the garden from the roof of the main house. You can also see the orchard directly behind the garden, and the bush area extending up the other side of the valley.

Right side of the garden - I've spent lots of time weeding, mulching, and planting in here with Fran

Fran collecting sea grass

We spent an afternoon ‘working’ at the beach – collecting sea grass to use as garden mulch. As you can see, the tide was really low and the sun had dried out the sea grass so it was easy to go along and scoop it into our sacks. There were a few muddy patches though…

The Cheese

In the end I made feta using two different methods. The one I mentioned in my last post, which was by fermentation. The second was the more conventional method using starter cultures and rennet. Both turned out tasty despite some minor hiccups along the way! The fermented one had a milder flavour, but better texture, took longer to make, but was less work. I think the cultured one won on flavour, but it was a good chunk of a Sunday spent stirring, measuring, taking temperatures, and draining.

Equipment for the second round of cheese... 5Litres of raw milk ready to go

The final products - cubed fermented version in front, round cultured version at the back

Hot Compost

Fran has been working hard in the garden getting everything in order for the summer growing season, and producing lots of food for the upcoming courses. Every good garden needs good compost, so Tom and I decided to make a Hot Compost pile so Fran would have some extra compost to work with. Hot Compost works the same way a regular compost pile does, but it’s has a finished product in as little as 18 days instead of months.

The right ratio of green (nitrogen) to brown (carbon) is critical for success with Hot Compost - Tom and I collecting brown material in the fern grove

We layered up cow poop, brown material, kitchen scraps, and weeds in a one cubic meter pile. The pile gets so hot from all the bacterial action that most weed seeds are killed and it’s steamy when you turn it over. Every few days we’ve been turning it over and keeping it moist. It’s starting to look pretty good!

Compost now - about 14 days old

Russel and I had the honour of cleaning out the composting toilets. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Unlike long drops or out houses, compost toilets don’t smell bad and the ‘finished product’ is pretty harmless. The farm uses a vermiculture system that is a lot like home worm farms for composting – each worm eats its own body weight in organic matter a day, and poops it out as a nutrient rich composted material. Obviously what we were digging out was not fresh, it had been sitting long enough for the worms to get their work done – a few months. Most people don’t use this compost directly in their gardens, but it is possible if you’ve let it cure enough to ensure that any pathogenic bacteria has been wiped out. There’s no problem putting it on perennials or in an orchard though.

Joc' shows us how it's done

The finished product. Looks like dirt to me!

The compost was put in the subtropical orchard and covered with saw dust as a mulch to keep the nutrients from getting washed away

The Ducklings

I’ve been looking after the poultry while I’ve been here, and lucky for me it’s been duckling season. The ducklings I told you about last time are doing really well, and have gotten quite big under the protection of Mr Gander.

One of the Muscovie ducks hatched six bright yellow fuzz balls two days ago. They’re so cute!

Mama and her ducklings

Unfortunately they’re also tasty. Stoats, eels, and ferral cats are on the hunt and took out half the pack within 24hrs. Down to three, we moved them into a chicken tractor where we hoped they would be safer.

Their new home in the chicken tractor, complete with pond

And then there were three

The Market

Every Saturday there is a Farmer’s Market in Matakana. The farm has a stall that sells produce, honey, fresh cut flowers, and organic crepes made to order. I’ve been helping out most weekends that I’ve been here, and it’s been sweet as – live music, lots of fresh local organic produce, friendly people, and delicious crepe snacks.

Part of our stall at the Matakana Farmer's Market

Hands down THE BEST oranges I've ever tasted! They're so sweet and juicy... yummy.

The Holiday Season!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and don’t forget summer solstice! We celebrated Solstice at the farm with a magnificent feast so some people could spend Christmas with their families. Each of us made a special dish of delicious food. I made butter chicken from a recipe that Rob swears is the best…. and I started with the chicken.

Fran and Tom in the kitchen preparing for the feast

The table - we used canna lily leaves for plates so we would hav fewer dishes to wash

Appies! Scallops and Thai fish cakes on lemon grass skewer

Tom's mostly maggot free Camembert cheese, and Russel's gorgeus French loaves

Russel playing his Aussie role of "Baar-bie" Master

The main course- butter chicken, the best steak i've ever eaten, and a tasty stuffed squash

A couple of happy campers!

The final straw... Fran's (she's Italian) Tiramisu and Tom's (he's British) Mince Tart, and Fejio liquer

I slept well that night.

Christmas was a bit quieter, but just as lovely. It was my first Christmas away from home (*tear), but was bearable because the Farm and country weren’t swept away by Holiday Fever. It was also my first Christmas on a warm beach (Tofino doesn’t count). The water was so warm! Even saw Santa (or one of his elves) take a quick break for a surf.

Pikiri Beach - Christmas 2009

Me and my cape. I picked potatoes at noon (bad timing), and forgot to put sunscreen on my back - needless to say I got a bit burnt. The Cape did a good job of protecting my burn for the rest of the day.

Is that Santa!?

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Rainbow Valley Farm – Flood, Feathers, Filth, and Feta

The Flood

Usually the stream flows through a culvert under the drive way... didn't quite fit this time

My first week on Rainbow Valley Farm coincided with monsoon rains. The first few days the mornings were pleasant, and just as we would sit down for our communal lunch the rains would begin. It was like clock work. It started with a little drizzle and quickly became torrential! Soon after we finished washing up the lunch dishes, the clouds would part and we could get back to work in the humid heat.

A few days later the rain settled in, and it poured for about three days. The last day was amazing! It was so loud that we had to raise our voices, and it just kept getting louder and wetter as the day progressed. The gutter above the door to my room got clogged, so by the middle of the night I had a waterfall shooting off the roof in front of my door! By noon the next day the property was starting to flood. Trish, the owner of the farm, said it was the biggest flood she’d seen on the property in over twenty years. The flooding was caused because the farm is situated in a steep valley. The ground became so saturated that the rain just ran off, and flooded the valley stream. Luckily the main house and wwoofery (housing for interns and wwoofers) were up high enough on the hill to not be affected. Just as quickly as the water had come up it subsided. The wood lot had been shifted a bit, the permanent tent was a little damp and silty, and the lower paddocks looked flattened. Amazingly none of the fences broke, the bridges held up, and nothing was shifted too far.

Tom checking on the fences

The Feathers

“Birds of a feather flock together,” doesn’t quite ring true on this farm. We’ve got chooks (chickens), ducks, geese, and guinea fowl all living a somewhat harmonious existence. One of the first tasks I was given was feeding the poultry and collecting the eggs. I quite enjoy it as a start and end to my day.

Chickens, ducks, and guinea fowl living together

Until recently, all of the poultry was totally free ranging on the farm, and most of them stuck to the orchards. It’s quite cute to walk through the orchard and around the wwoofery and find random and creatively placed nesting boxes that have now been abandoned. Having free range chickens in the orchard for over a decade began to take it’s toll as they had started to scratch down to the shallow rooting systems of the fruit trees, so things changed! The chickens were split into three groups – a chicken tractor, a flock for the hen house, and a small group to remain free ranging in the orchard. Some of the ducks joined the hens headed for the house, but the most of them and the guinea fowl and geese stayed in the orchard. Since the switch up the orchard has changed a lot. There is a new rhubarb patch, and lots of undergrowth growing back, and still benefiting from the bird poop fertilizer.

A favourite nesting box or a wood oven?

As with any barnyard, there is a love story to share. A few years ago Mrs Goose passed away, and Mr Gander was left heartbroken and lonely. Then one day his eye caught a sleek looking black duck named Victoria. It was love at first sight, and he has been at her side ever since. Victoria enjoys Mr Gander’s company alright, but she has been a bit promiscuous. Eight little ducklings were born just a few weeks ago, but Mr Gander seems to think they could only be his. He is very protective of them, and they’re growing very strong as a result. Meanwhile, Ms Goosey was introduced to the flock as a replacement for Mrs Goose. Smitten immediately with Mr Gander, Ms Goosey tends to spend her days following Mr Gander, Victoria, and their ducklings around – I have yet to decide whether it should be classified as stalking or just the nature of a protective aunt to the ducklings.
Mr Gander and Ms Goosey team up to be bullies at feeding time, and I’ve had a really hard time dealing with their behaviour. If they were simply being mean for the sake of it and stealing everyone else’s food then I suppose they could have been moved or isolated for a little bit. However, they’re only acting out of protection for the ducklings. Most of the other birds have realized this and stay a safe distance away from them at all times…. I think Mr Gander gets a little bit bored by their good behaviour and lashes out indiscriminately on occasion. He doesn’t respond when I tell him off.

The love triangle - Mr Gander, Victoria, Ms Goosey, and the ducklings

The Filth

Weeding the rice paddy is a dirty job

The hot and humid summers here make for good rice growing conditions. It is probably the only rice paddy in New Zealand, and produces almost enough to sustain the farm. They’ve been experimenting with annual versus perennial systems of growing rice. Although it is more common to grow rice on a small scale annually because it is a staple and yield has to be consistent for subsistence farmers, friends of the farm in Japan have insisted that their perennial rice has higher yield. The easy part of growing annual rice is that at the beginning of the season the paddy can be drained and thoroughly weeded, and then rice transplanted in, and ducks added to keep the weeds down and fertilize. The hard part about growing it perennially is that this weeding has to happen between the already establish rice plants, and more often… it’s a lot more work.

Hair of the Day Winner: Fran!

Off we went to weed the rice paddy! Honestly, I don’t think I even imagined spending time in a rice paddy, but it was quite enjoyable. Especially once I got the hang of keeping my legs wide enough to keep balance and limit how much I had to bend my back.

Fran ‘accidentally’ threw her handful of mud and weeds at Tom instead of the bank. From that point on there were random missiles of mud flying in every direction. We were filthy by the end of it, but my skin was softer!

Who should get the next mud bomb?

The Feta

Some of you may already know about my fascination with making my own cheese. Just before I left on this trip I bought a little starter kit, but decided to wait until I got back because I didn’t have enough time to finish it, and by that I mean eat it. It was just my luck that Joc, the farm’s people care manager, is an accomplish home cheese maker! Even though I’m only here for a month, it is more then enough time to make feta. YAY! One of the farm hands, James, regularily buys raw milk for his family and he was happy to fill a few bottles up for Tom and I. Tom made a MASSIVE block of camembert that is still curing, and I’ve made a wee little blob of feta. Today I’ll be taking it out of the mold and putting it in a brine solution for a week or so. Hopefully by then we’ll have some lovely tomatoes and cucumbers to make a big greek salad! Some ancient greek ancestor will be proud!

First step in making Feta: skim the cream off the milk, and to make butter and buttermilk

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