Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Free range chicken

One of Tasmania's largest poultry producers, Nichols, has recently launched a new ethical free range chicken product line. The birds are housed in 'villages' of four movable sheds each housing 720 birds (a much lower density than the thousands housed in one shed under other poultry production systems) and they are free to come and go from the sheds as they please.

I had the opportunity to have a look inside last week on a field trip. While it is still a little shocking to see so many birds living such short lives, the conditions were clean and spacious, the feeding and watering stations looked great and many of the birds were enjoying themselves resting outside the sheds or pecking in the grass and mud. The large, green paddock we visited contained four of these chook 'villages'. Check out the video on their web site to see it for yourself.

While at present the ethical free range product represents less than 10 percent of the chicken they produce (the rest is barn raised under the RSPCA standard), it is hoped that customer demand will grow and production can expand. It's good reason for us Aussies to eat a bit less chicken and be happy to pay a bit more for it, I reckon. I'll be checking out our local supermarkets to see who stocks it.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Japanese wasabi, grown in Tasmania

On a field trip last week visiting businesses in Tasmania's north west, I saw wasabi growing for the first time and tasted the freshest possible, just picked, trimmed and grated by the founder of Shima Wasabi. Now part of The Tasmanian Food Co. group of companies, it's a fascinating business and the largest grower of Japanese wasabi in the southern hemisphere. They primarily supply fresh wasabi to high end restaurants around Australia. It is grown hydroponically in a large climate controlled greenhouse. The stems (not the roots, as widely believed) are harvested and shipped on demand direct to chefs, chilled to keep it fresh. There's little waste, as the leaves, stems and flowers can all be used as well. Currently, little of their product goes direct to consumers, although you can buy wasabi powder  to make a lovely paste from their web site. That may change, however, with new products and packaging methods currently under development.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The big spud

How have I been in Tasmania for more than seven years and NOT seen this before? It's the Big Spud at Sassafras. Yes, a large potato in a hat. His name is Kenny Kennebec (a type of potato). I've been to the Big Banana, the Big Pineapple, the Big Merino and even the Giant Earthworm, but seriously, this is quality stuff Tasmania. The only problem is, as far as big things go, he's not very big.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hobart sings in winter

Last Saturday, our little community choir from Franklin performed three pop-up gigs as part of the Festival of Voices in Hobart. We took the bus into town and sang in the lovely Wild Gallery in Salamanca, on top of a red double-decker bus parked at the Brook Street Pier and in the IXL Atrium behind the Henry Jones Art Hotel.

It turned out to be a glorious winter day in Hobart and aside from the fun we had singing, the hanging about at Salamanca Market and walking between venues was such a treat. David drove into town to meet me afterwards and we finished up the day with cocktails at Rude Boy and dinner at Restaurant Schulz at the Polish Club. A very long and happy day out "in town".


Friday, July 21, 2017


The Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival is over for another year, and this year we again spent the Friday night in the glorious cold night air in the paddocks around Willie Smith's Apple Shed in Grove. Well, some of it was spent toasting ourselves next to fire barrels. Eating pork cracking and pork buns from Fat Pig Farm, raclette with cheese from Tasmania's Heidi Farm, burritos and divine doughnuts from Lady Hester. Stu from Tasman Quartermasters was wielding the blowtorch, his cooking method of choice. We warmed ourselves up from the inside by sipping hot mulled cider.

It must be said that the 'burning man' ceremony went on a little (OK, way) too long this year, with a man telling a "story" that wasn't and fire dancers who would have been awesome if you could see them. After 35 minutes of this, some Korean tourists standing next to me wielding enormous Samsung phones turned and asked "burning soon?" Then finally, Big Willie was lit and he burned brightly in the Huon Valley sky. It's absolutely one of the best festivals of the year, set up to cater for the crowds and the cold. All my photos were rubbish though. I'm blaming icy fingers!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cheese club

Join the club! The Bruny Island Cheese Club, that is. Even if you live on the 'mainland', you can still enjoy artisan products from Tasmania at home. The courier arrived yesterday afternoon with my latest cheese shipment and by 6pm, a fair chunk of the 'smoked truckle' was already gone. Delicious. My favourite Bruny Island Cheese is the o.d.o (one day old) marinated fresh cheese and the C2 raw milk... or maybe Tom... gosh, I'll just eat it all, shall I? The cheese and other products come packed in reusable ice blocks and it makes a great gift too... just saying. It's not my birthday or anything.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The chicken swing

I'm not talking about some new dance craze. No, after years of seeing me chuckle at silly videos of chooks on swings, David built one for me. It's not really for the chooks. More for my own entertainment, you understand. Clearly I'm not the only one, as there are quite a few commercial chicken swings available to buy. We're now hoping to catch one of the girls on it. One hen is very curious and has spent a lot of time peering at it, but I have not seen her on it yet.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Winter gardening

The rabbits have eaten the tops off all my snow peas, broad beans and garlic. Broccoli, leek and cabbage seedlings have been crushed under the weight of the snow. Now the earth is hard and regularly covered in frost or snow. So I give up for now. I am planning to start again next month, with peas, radishes and replanting the snow peas and broad beans, with bunny protection this time. The exception is my snow-covered greenhouse, where broccoli, lettuce and herb seedlings are protected from the ice and the rabbits and only have the slugs to contend with.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The real winter

It was a fresh zero degrees this morning. Yesterday's snow had frozen into slippery ice. My chickens had a snow roof over their temporary chicken run in the orchard. Winter started mildly, quite warm and dry for June. But now the real winter is here. The forecast for the next week includes a few days with sub-zero starts. We are wearing polar fleece socks inside our gumboots and enjoying the log fire in the evenings.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Curious chickens

Currently we have eight pullets living in the chook tractor in the orchard. They are very curious creatures. When I open the door of the house, they hear me coming and all run to greet me. They follow me up and down the run. The dogs like to sniff at them through the fence (I still don't trust the the dogs not to chase) but the funny thing is - the curiosity is mutual. The chickens come over to the dogs and peer at them. On a frosty morning this week, Baerli came with me to feed the girls and had a chat with them while she was there.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Roosters for raptors

Usually, if I have an unwanted rooster or two, I 'dispatch' them (as poultry folk say) myself. They end up in the freezer and get eaten at some point, by us or the dogs, depending on whether I can face rooster stew or curry after skinning and gutting them. But today I had four poor young cockerels who needed to go. They had started crowing and throwing their weight around and our existing rooster didn't like it much. Things were starting to get a little violent in the chook house.

Last year on a visit to the Raptor Refuge of Tasmania, we learned that they accept donations of unwanted live roosters, who are humanely euthanised and fed to birds in their care. I think it's a great idea. Anything to stop irresponsible chook owners from dumping them and help rehabilitation of these beautiful birds sounds good to me. Well, not good for the roosters clearly, but better than some other fates. You need to contact the refuge first to arrange a convenient time for drop off (in the box shown here) as they have limited resources, with staff and volunteers kept very busy caring for the animals.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fleeting snow

The forecast was for snow down to 400 metres. We settled in on the lounge to watch a movie (Hunt for the Wilderpeople - highly recommend) and by the time it was over the flakes were falling thick and fast and the garden furniture had a lovely dusting of snow. This afternoon, the snow is melting and clumps of it are falling off the roof with a great thud. The first snow of the year won't last long but it was pretty! And the dogs love it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Winter fitness challenge

This is what I saw when I went out on my little run this morning:

If you're moving to rural Tasmania and (like me) don't like gyms and prefer to exercise in the fresh air, here's some honest truth. Be prepared for the mental barrier to climb just a little bit higher. I prefer to exercise first thing in the morning before work, and at this time of year when I go out, it's dark until after 7am. I mean pitch black. There's no ambient light or street lights like you get in the city. I find it easy to go out walking or running at 5.30 or 6.00am when I'm in Sydney for work. Here, I wear a head torch that illuminates the patch of dirt road immediately in front of me, helping me to avoid puddles and potholes. Apart from the occasional hopping sounds of pademelons fleeing from my path, I could be anywhere. Sometimes forestry guys in their utes whiz by on their way to work and the occasional truck thunders past and I have to step off the road until they pass. In the daytime, walking in the forest is beautiful, in the dark it becomes just a little bit scary.

Boo hoo, I hear you say, you're just making excuses not to exercise. Fair enough. I much prefer to walk and run in the cold than (say) the humid heat in Sydney, but I won't pretend its not harder to get myself out the door here. This morning it was a pleasant 7 degrees, unlike yesterday's sub-zero temperatures and chunky frost (I stayed in bed). While it will no doubt get colder over the next couple of months, I am so happy at the passing of the winter solstice this week, as it will start to get lighter at both ends of the day. Hurray!

A few months ago, David and I decided to bite the bullet and get a personal trainer to visit once a week. It seemed like a splurge, but it's been absolutely worth it. For the first couple of sessions we were able to exercise outdoors, but since daylight saving ended our trainer comes to our home and we work out in the living room. The bonus is I can wear a t-shirt and can see my own feet! Without someone (nicely) bullying me I doubt I would ever work as hard. Another step I think I'll have to take is to vary my exercise time and go out after 4pm some days when I'm too brain dead for complex work but before it gets dark. If you have any good winter exercise strategies, please let me know. It has been a challenge, one that I'm only just starting to get on top of.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sculpture Trail at Birchs Bay Art Farm

An art farm? Now that's a good idea. Art Farm Birchs Bay is on a property growing native pepperberries and a variety of flowers. It is also home to 12 permanent sculptures dotted around the hillside above Birchs Bay. Until mid-July, there's an exhibition of 17 additional works along the trail, which takes around 45 minutes to walk. There were many clever, beautiful and fun pieces. My photos really don't do it justice, so check out their gallery for more. There's a cafe on site if you need refreshments.

We took advantage of yesterday's perfect, sunny winter weather to visit the art farm. On the way we visited the Woodbridge Market (including a coffee across the road at the general store) and a stop at the Margate Train on the way home, where we ate Turkish Gozleme in the sun and picked up some Tassie pilsener from the Devils Brewery cellar door. What a lovely start to a long weekend.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Road trip to Launceston

Every day, many Tasmanian business people and public servants drive the 2.5 hour stretch between Hobart and Launceston for meetings. It seems crazy in the age of Skype and conference calls, but I guess sometimes face-to-face is best. Those making the trek regularly complain about the ongoing roadworks (improvements) on the Midland Highway, but it didn't bother me much on my brief road trip north last week. In fact, the road is looking great, much better than even a few years back. I drove north for a small gathering of communications and PR people at Saint John Craft Beer - a Launceston institution - and back the next morning.

I stayed at Auldington, an old convent with lovely views over the city and fully renovated, modern rooms inside. It turned out to be great value for money and only a short walk from the centre of town. As I've said before, Launceston grows on me with every visit.  In the frosty dark morning, I ran up Cataract Gorge to the suspension bridge and walked back down the Zig Zag Track. On the drive north, I stopped at Redlands Distillery, and at Oatlands for a late breakfast on the way back. If you have a favourite spot to stop on the Midland Highway, please let me know!