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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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