The kitchen is such a lovely place to be in at the moment with its wide range of smells and tastes and generally homely sights. There are jars of plum jam on the table waiting for their labels and their grape-leaf covers; there are preserving pans of plum sauce and tomato sauce simmering away on the stove, and the dehydrator is puffing out the glorious Mediterranean fragrances of basil and peppers as the years supply is picked, dried and stored in an array of pretty containers collected during the past few months. With subsistence farming you live or die according to how you manage the harvest at this time of the year and it's hard to think ahead when you have heaps of yummy stuff coming out your ears, but think ahead you must. It is so easy to be lulled into a sense of abundant security and I need to make sure that there will be an adequate supply of food, and as wide a variety as possible, to last through to this time next year.
When you first start along the road to self-sufficiency, mistakes will be made and you will end up with an over supply of one food and an under supply of another. Over the years you will learn how much you will need to put away for things like bartering and you will become quite creative as you devise one hundred and one ways of storing, preserving and serving the bumper crop of whatever. As you relax back into the morning sun with a large glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and a pile of home baked bread smothered in fresh butter, the thought of what will be available in the middle of winter is not paramount. Yet the thought of trying to devise one hundred and one ways of processing silver beet, because that is the only vegetable available, gives me a huge incentive to plan ahead very carefully. As I blanch, bottle, preserve and pickle I make a note of the number of meals each crop is providing and this gives me an indication of the rationing ratio for the coming year. For instance, I know I can have a feed of broccoli once a week, beans three times a week, corn three times a week, and peas twice a week etc. etc., and I become more comfortable knowing I won't need to deprive Mrs Pig of her silver beet!
I like to spend the milking time thinking. While I am sitting on an upturned beer box, my head snuggled into a toasty warm tummy, there is not much else to do. I call this my 'quality pondering time' and, I'm sure, if everyone took a few moments each day to stop, turn off the distractions, and allow the mind to wander about and organise things, the world would be a better place. I know Middelmost is. Today I was thinking about the ground I pulled the beans out of - it's bare, and Mother Nature never intended the earth to be bare. The easiest solution is to dump compost on it and to leave it, but that won't be very tasty for the cows in two months time. Instead I think...what could go in there now...what are the neighbours planting at the moment...could I be cheeky with a late crop of maize...should I dig in some lime and get it ready for spring cabbages... would the cows eat mustard if I sowed it...? I don't get too scientific but I make sure there is a sensible crop rotation and I like to be continually growing something I know will nourish at least one of the Middelmost residents.
The back paddock is now looking like a paddock and not like the hills and gullies of the Upper Turakina Valley. The generous offer from the neighbour to bring his cultivator down to level it for me didn't eventuate because he had bought a new and larger cultivator three weeks ago and it was too big to fit through the gate! Instead I used the leaf rake, the thistle chipper and loads and loads of compost. It was a mission. It took most of the week to achieve and I still have the grass seed sowing to do. With the idea of using the cultivator gone, the next best method of getting the seed into the ground is to broadcast it and to then run a mob of sheep across it a few times. But this is not possible either because the paddock next door, through which the sheep would have to come, is still shut up for hay. I could throw the seed around and go over it again with the leaf rake but I have a feeling I might end up with a very uneven strike and, at $9 a kilo, I certainly don't want to just leave it there as a smorgasbord for the sparrows! With rain forecast for Friday, tomorrow is going to be the best time to get the seed out as it is definitely not going to grow sitting in the paper bag. After pondering this problem this morning, I have decided to mix the seed into damp sawdust and to use this mixture to 'top dress' the paddock with. Hopefully the sawdust will protect the seeds from the birds and I should get an even sowing because the sawdust is so visible. It was suggested to me that Last Thyme's great big beetle crushers would be just as good as a couple of dozen sheep and that I should walk him gently up and down the paddock to push the seeds into the ground. I'm sure it would work but yesterday Last Thyme had his very first set of shoes fitted and I don't think the seeds would appreciate being squashed by a set of stilettos.
When the blacksmith arrived I felt like a mother handing her 'baby' over to the hairdresser for it's first haircut - will he cry/throw a paddy/grab the scissors and poke her eyes out? Should I have worried - of course not! The blacksmith wasn't. Last Thyme wasn't. I stood there nervously feeding him carrots as the first nail was driven in but, true to form, Last Thyme didn't care and, when the carrots ran out, he spent the rest of the time with his head between his legs trying to give the blacksmith a hand! But he was funny when he took his first steps - he looked rather like a kid with a set of flippers on.