Naturally, winter involves slowing down, the days are shorter, the nights are longer and our bodies slow down to rest. Living close to nature and being aware of these changes has an impact on how we view and evaluate our own lives, to be more in tune with natural rhythms.
Last year we decided to make time in winter to go away and have a break. This year we endeavoured to do the same. We went to the beach for a relaxing, warm week of sand and sunshine before coming back to our gumboots and gloves. During the busy-ness of the season, we left many administrative tasks to winter and have spent many, many days in the office catching up. While this means not too much time is spent actually switching off, we are blessed with a sunny office and a beautiful view!
We have only kept our layer chickens and pigs over winter. We planted cover crops in the market garden, and heavy wood chip mulch to protect and develop the soil over winter. It is too cold for raising chickens on pasture so we finished our last batch at the end of June.
This time has also been a reflection and evaluation of the last season and planning forward for the next season. We would have liked to have been well on our way with this planning by now, but we are only just getting our heads above water on the administrative tasks and other odd winter jobs. It is always surprising how difficult it is to switch off and slow down. In our fast-paced world, one can be very easily made to feel guilty for taking time off to rest. Especially in our case where it is in the middle of the year. In December, we are flat out with the guesthouse, so we need to make an effort to take time off at another time during the year. It really does boost productivity but one tends to feel quite defensive about doing it. It requires effort to switch off! How crazy is that!
In May we began planning animal rotations with the expectation of a cold winter after late rains. However, this winter has been hot and dry. In our May blog post, we wrote about the first frost being right on time. We had 2 weeks at the beginning of June with some chilly, frosty mornings… and then that was that. We had broilers out on pasture during those two weeks so that was not fun for anyone but since then, only frost occasionally along the stream.
There has been zero rain for months now. After the heavy rains in April, we had 3mm in May and zero in June and July! The dam continued to overflow but, mid-July, this overflow dried up too. We now begin to watch the dam levels drop as we pray for Spring rains. It has been unseasonably warm with temperatures in the mid twenties most days – it has felt more like early Autumn than Winter. This could mean winter is still coming… everything else has been late so far this year, or that we may have a battle with pests having not had proper cold and frost. It is quite frightening actually to watch the changes in the seasons – every year is hotter and drier than the last, rains are unpredictable, fire risks are therefore extended… pause for thought….
During our time off, we visited Enaleni Farm near Camperdown. Once a month they host a pop up food experience called Eataleni. We were able to enjoy the skill of guest chef Kayla-Ann Osborn from the Chef’s Table, whipping up crispy koelbroek, indigenous chicken broth and other delights harvested from the farm! We loved seeing all the indigenous breeds of pigs, chickens, turkeys and sheep. We left with full hearts, minds full of ideas and very full tummies! A definite must.
One of our major Winter jobs has been a large garden tidy up, pruning back many overgrown and dangerously hanging trees, pruning fruit trees, and opening up overgrown spaces for smaller plants to see the sun too. It has let a lot more light in around us and opened new views, but will hopefully increase our fruit and chestnut yields. The wood harvested from these cut-backs will be dried for firewood to be used in the guesthouse next winter.
The second major job we embarked on was the addition of a small kitchen for guests. Two of our suites don’t have kitchens so we decided to convert the third smaller one, usually used as an overflow or for children, into a simple kitchen. We have used many bits of furniture that we already had, and bought a cupboard and sink. Some very skilled plumbing and carpentry from our favourite farmer, and tiling from Sandile, means we have a very beautiful country kitchen! We are excited to have this facility available for our guests. It completes the full farm stay experience of delicious, nutritious good food from our farm, available in the farm shop. Guests can enjoy a spacious kitchen with games around the table while having a braai or preparing a meal. With a stove top, oven, microwave, kettle, fridge, and a dishwasher, it has everything needed for a weekend stay. We are running a ‘guinea pig’ special – book a stay in the Orchard Suite and test out the new kitchen and we’ll give you a 10% discount until 31 August. Send us an email if you’d like to book.
Pasture Raised Eggs
This was our first Winter where we had a big flock of chickens. In previous years, we only had a maximum of 20 chickens. It has been a difficult balance to keep them warm and fed. Most of the flat areas that we usually use for the chickens are some of the coldest, being along the stream, and generally experience heavy frost most days. We moved the chickens to an area closer to the house, beneath some large old trees. They have loved foraging through the leaves and have been quite remarkable at breaking up and spreading the leaves around. Some of these big old trees are chestnut trees. While the pigs enjoyed the peak of the chestnuts in March, the chickens have succeeded in finding the odd one here and there. They have also enjoyed the fruit from a loquat tree that overhangs their fence. We parked the egg mobile in such a way that we could get multiple fence moves with fewer egg mobile moves. The ground doesn’t recover as quickly and most of our grass is dry so it has been quite a juggle to keep finding decent areas for the chickens to forage, and without overdoing it too much in a given area.
Forest Raised Pork
The pigs have had to up their foraging game too. We found a way of creating a larger paddock for them so they have more to explore and more forage. They have excelled at uprooting bugweed, brambles and wattle! We are fortunate to get waste milk from the dairy next door, but this production has also slowed for Winter. We have been supplementing this with whey from Tatsfield, a calf-at-foot dairy from REKO. The pigs love the whey! So much so that they bust out of their enclosure earlier this week and helped themselves! We have a suspicion that they escape during the day, and innocently re-enclose themselves just before feeding time, without us being any the wiser! Wouldn’t put it past this lot! They have continued to grow rapidly, although their weight gain rate has slowed. However, despite this, we were over the moon this week to discover new sweet green grass shoots in the areas where the pigs were in early June! Despite the dry conditions, and being in a cold area of the farm, these green shoots show the benefit the pigs brought to that area! After all, we are farming for resiliency, and if we can have our grasses recovering more quickly due to animal impact, improved water retention due to improved organic matter in the soil, and animal fertilisation, we are winning!
We missed two weeks of REKO while we were away but it reminded us what a great concept this buying and selling model is, with such easy access to wholesome produce. The producer base continues to grow, with new applications every week, and a growing customer base. Customers can buy just about all of their groceries from REKO now, with a more than one producer of most items so that they can price shop too.
We have had a lot of people interested in farm tours recently which has been very motivating for us. Currently, there is not much happening on the farm but we have enjoyed being able to share our journey with others. It has been encouraging for us as it was something we originally had hoped to do. Living up on our own little hill and building topsoil without sharing this story with others seems a bit pointless!
With all this interest, we have decided to run an open farm tour in Spring – whenever Spring arrives! Hopefully this will be the start of many to come.
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There has been a lot of networking this Winter too. At least being delayed with our planning means we can incorporate all of these exciting and interesting new opportunities and ideas into our planning. Watch this space, as these develop….