Weathering the Dry

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After the flush and abundance of spring, summer rolls in. It has been very dry here for the past month or so, and the green grass has been stripped of its moisture to become a sparse gold carpet over dry grey dirt. The creek has dried up, and the front dam is no longer potable, meaning that seven ponies and a Thoroughbred are now reliant on troughs being filled daily by a hose. Absence of water means absence of growth; the lawn will not need to be mowed for a while.

But these warm, dry days have plenty of positives about them. The does are at their best, in super condition without the effort of keeping warm. They come in each night with full stomachs and they are still milking quite well. The ponies’ coats are sleek and fine, and they also keep well on the barest of grazing. The horse paddocks look bloody awful, to be honest, with manure on bare, dry ground. But the amazing thriftiness of the New Forest Pony in a warm, dry Victorian summer means that grazing must be restricted. The danger from excess sugars in the grass is gone now, but it is still wise to keep the ponies from getting too fat.

The summer vegies – tomatoes, pumpkins, corn and capsicum – need the long days and mild nights to grow their fruit. This year’s pumpkin vines look like yielding seven pumpkins, and as long as they get plenty of water they love the heat. The tomatoes are more sensitive to the sun, but as long as they are kept watered they continue to grow. Their first fruit are starting to ripen, I have several varieties by the look of things and some I had not expected are doing very well. The capsicum and chilli plants are green and lush, with a couple of thumb-sized capsicums a sign of things to come. The main vegetable garden, pumpkin patch and back porch potted plants are green oases in the dry, yellow yard.

These warm nights are perfect for making cheese and yogurt. The yogurt in particular does well when it incubates somewhere warm, setting thickly in the tub overnight. Great stuff, made with goat milk, some extra milk powder, a little sugar and some good vanilla extract. Perfect with summer fruit.

They say rain is good weather for ducks, but watching my geese and ducks splashing and diving in the lake on a hot day makes me think that summer is good weather for ducks too. No need for sunblock when you are covered in feathers, so they spend hours in the cool water. The chooks are not so impressed, spending the heat of the day in the shade of the barn or bathing in the cool dust under the big gum tree. Yet Buffy the Rhode Island Red hen has managed to hatch six healthy chicks, thanks in part to the fully-insulated dog kennel she has as a broody house. This very sturdy little building came from the Ballarat Transfer Station for a mere $20, and fit neatly into the horse float we had brought our garbage in. Even on the real scorchers it was beautifully cool inside and so far the crows have no idea how to get in the tiny door.

I’ve been spending time in the evenings working with my clever young pony Zev. The warm, still twilight after the kids have gone to bed is ideal, with only the setting sun to limit our training sessions. Once Rusty recovers from his bruised foot I might even do a little bit of riding of a night. These evenings are my favourite part of summer.

So my latest batch of yogurt has just gone into the incubator, to hopefully be ready for tomorrow’s breakfast. We’ve got a bit of summer still to come, although some welcome rain and cooler weather have been forecast in the next few weeks. Anzac Day, the traditional end of the warm growing season, is still a couple of months away. Hopefully soon we will be flush with summer produce.

 

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