One of my goody-baskets has come home. The jolly thing is sitting on the kitchen table begging for attention and I shall have to deal with it. Goody-baskets are the easiest way to start a neighborhood barter system. Pop into the you-know-where-house and buy a couple of cheap, smallish baskets with handles. Tie a pretty ribbon on them, line them with paper napkins, fill them with something you have too much of and visit a couple of neighbors. I have four baskets wandering around the district at the moment. Two came back to me about a month ago - one was filled with garlic and the other had a little container of lavender salts to put in my bath. They both went out again filled to the brim with walnuts. One came back the following day with a freshly baked walnut loaf in it. I picked ripe, juicy, tangerines and sent it off. Peace for three weeks - the baskets were obviously heading in new directions...until today! Back one came, chocker with kiwifruit. I shall eye up the tamarillo tree tomorrow and see what's available.
Bribery and corruption is an enormous part of my farming enterprise and I am continually making sure I will have plenty of things to give away. Sometimes your sharing stops at the first station and goes no further, but I always remember the times in my younger days when kind people shared with me and I had absolutely nothing to return. If a basket stops at the first station, don't be disheartened - go and buy another. Your gifts of surplus produce will provide, for some, more than you can guess. And for others, the ancient survival tactic of sharing your successful specialty will inspire them to do the same, hopefully providing you with a variety of food you couldn't normally grow on your own. My next major "give away crop" is daffodils. By late August I will be able to pick buckets full of them. Just before Christmas it's gladioli, then it's dahlias. A jar of pickled onions always gets a good response and this year I pickled garlic for the first time - lots of small jars with big grapevine leaves tied over the lids for decoration. Hopefully they will pass the consumer testing panel and will be stored for those times when I instantly need to say "thank you", or "sorry", or "will this help?" etc.
Tonight I noticed that Little Cream Cheese had some black and white hairs on the 'small' horn. Little-Out-Of-Africa is black and white. I guess the horn is hardening up and things are returning to normal. With the bad weather we had last week I have brought Little Sweet Pea and Little Miss Dream in. Sweet Pea is growing her second calf for me and she started to drop in condition about five weeks ago. I like to see two ribs showing on my cows - no more and no less - and I don't like to see what I call 'piano keys' on the top part of the loin (either side of the spine). I am always running my hands over the girls because a furry winter coat can hide things, but I had been busy, and in the space of a couple of days Sweet Pea had become close to me being able to play a tune! Young dairy cows can drop in condition very quickly and, once the fat starts to melt away, any amount of feeding will not reverse the process. The big, white-faced heifer calf she was feeding was weaned, and she had some extra time in the orchard every day, as well as a bigger hard feed. The rot stopped and she picked up again but, as a precaution, she is getting extra TLC until the spring grass comes away.
Little Miss Dream is Poppy's calf. She is ten months old and is quite a promiscuous little madam. As I intend putting her with a bull in January next year she is having extra feed to ensure she is strong and well developed. Being handled twice a day also means she is very settled, well mannered and (most importantly) greedy. Above all, a house cow should be greedy. No matter what - a greedy house cow is a must. If a friend is coming to do the milking, because you are away, they need to have animals that will stuff their heads into the feed bin and not worry if they have accidentally been matched with the wrong calves!
The Three Little Pigs are growing well. One is earmarked for my freezer, one is earmarked as payment for grazing fees, and one is earmarked for sale (to pay for the processing of the other two). At the moment they are still cute but, after another couple of months of them squealing in my ears twice a day while I hose them out, refresh their water and feed them, I will find the vision of sitting down to a delicious Christmas roast a more viable option.
This year I don't need to sell calves at the weaner stage as my cash flow requirements have steadied into a comfortable ripple which, at present, is matching the flow of daily life. I would like to build up a little herd of beefies in case I need a hip replacement one day! So, down to the local school I went to find some grazing. Half a day helping there and I had the information I needed. A couple of phone calls that night and Little Black, Big Black and Spotty were loaded into the horsefloat and driven off to pastures new. They now have a super hill paddock to grow big and fat on; it has plenty of shelter in the gullies (no matter which way the wind blows); a creek for fresh water, and some sheep for company. The owner of the paddock will have a whole pig processed, packaged and delivered before Christmas. I am lucky to have access to a very good 'home-kill' operator who also does the complete butchery bit as well. I know the owner of the paddock will be pleased with the deal and, hopefully, my new barter venture will continue and expand.
Now is the time to be thinking ahead to spring. I'm asking around to find out who is going to be growing what. So far, I have sourced my spuds, corn and carrots and, by not growing these, I will have room to grow a bigger crop of beans, tomatoes and peppers. Being a subsistence farmer means there is little time to rest. I must be constantly planning ahead. Now is the time for me to put things in place for those long, hot, summer evenings when I intend dining regularly out on the veranda. Or for the times when I want to enjoy a good book in the shade of the fern garden, a tall glass of real lemonade (with borage filled ice-cubes floating on top) at my elbow. You have to deal with future needs now. For a subsistence farmer, a missed thought today can later mean a total loss of one of life's niceties.