Weekend at Hazelcombe Farm

Posted by Jedd on 2013-09-30

The Scything Plus Workshop -- a weekend on Hazelcombe Farm near Mudgee, NSW, AU, learning interesting things from interesting people.

Nicki and Dan Power host these weekend workshops on their farm every six months or so, pulling in an array of specialists, experts, and multi-disciplinarians.


Brief aside -- the universe conspires

I'd driven about 2,000km without incident the previous week -- but just a few minutes after leaving home someone pulled out from the kerb without looking and whammed into the side of the car. The net result was that her car needed towing, and our car was badly damaged, but luckily still drivable.

Because of the former we had to wait for the police to arrive, then head back to our mechanic to get the all clear before heading off -- a delay of about five hours, all up.

In the tradition of 'you should have seen the other guy', this is the damage done to/by the car that hit us. Happily (for tiny values of happy) no one was injured, it was clearly the other driver's fault, and she was very apologetic about the whole thing.

One tries to be pragmatic about such things, but it's hard to not be mightily annoyed when people park in no-stopping areas, and then blithely pull out without looking over their shoulder.

There's never a good time for someone to carelessly drive into you

Hazelcombe Farm

Hazelcombe is set in the gorgeous north-south Totnes Valley, about 40 kilometres north-east of Mudgee.

Whereas we're based around the top of the Hunter Valley -- about 100km closer to the ocean, and more importantly about 400 metres closer to sea level.

While frosts at the top of the Hunter in September are uncommon, but not unheard of, daytime temperatures are typically around mid-twenties into low-thirties, while night time temperatures are usually in the equally reasonable 10-15C range.

I mention all this as it was quite the culture shock to experience the sudden drop in temperatures once the sun dipped down in the evening, and the temperature rapidly approached 0 degrees.

A particularly invigorating frost on the Saturday morning

Visitors camp adjacent to the dam, the kitchen / dining shed, and the humanure loos

The food was prepared with much love and skill by Christine Corner (on the left).


The Big Shed -- kitchen on the left, dining and class area on the right
(Annoyingly I couldn't include a good shot of the star-filled night sky.)
(( Technical ineptitude due in equal parts to a fine bottle of Sangiovese, and 2 degree air temperature. ))


As it happens, I had done a scything weekender with Simon Fairlie in Cornwall just two months ago, so while scything was the big ticket item listed for the weekend, it wasn't my primary interest.

(I had in fact discovered Hazelcombe from Simon's recommendation that I seek some advice from them about bringing a Swiss ash snath back when I relocated to Australia, as our border controls are notoriously difficult things to get timber products through, while Hazelcombe has been importing Austrian snaths for some years.)

Plus, of course, as scything is typically best done very early in the morning, and very early isn't how I take my mornings, I wasn't planning on being up for this bit. But as it happened, I fortuitously found myself awake early enough to wander along and see some of Speedy's scything demonstration.

Would you trust these beginners to mow your lawn?

Other talks and demonstrations

As often happens with talks about things I like to think I know a few things about, I'll start out nodding at much of what is being said, and by the end I'm making notes of things I'd never heard or thought of before.

This was pretty much the case with everything over the weekend.

The presentation on herbs given by Rowan Dorrell and Annie Capare is a prime example. Their farm was 'infested' with lots of plants that turned out to be incredibly useful. (Sadly our farm is infested with plants that turned out to be precisely as annoying as we first thought.)

Rowan Dorrell and Annie Capare describing local and introduced herbs

Ed offered some great insight (and nuances) on sharpening tools, especially knives of various shapes and sizes, and also showed off his rather flash jig for ensuring a perfect angle every time.

Everyone then gave him their pocket knives and secateurs to sharpen, so I expect next year he'll talk about how to taste wine.

Knife Sharpening 1
Ed's lovely range of tools

Knife Sharpening 2
Ed's Edge jig

Chris McColl of Kalangadoo Organic spoke first about basic budding and grafting, then on orchard management. Anyone managing 6,000+ apple trees should be listened to very carefully.

He and his wife Michelle also very kindly gave us some of their most excellent organic apple juice, made from a blend of Fuji, Braeburn and Pink Lady varieties.

Budding and Grafting
Chris describing budding and graftin

I don't imagine I'd ever keep goats -- partly I'm just not that keen on cheese or milk, but mostly because of what I've read and heard from other people (especially some of David Holmgren's stories) in terms of the fencing and management challenges, as well as the massive risks to your orchard and garden.

Nicki keeps goats as well as Dexters, but explained that goat-milking lends itself to smaller (than adult) hands, so the milking machine really comes into its own with them.

Milking the goats
Nicki emptying one of the goats

Speedy splitting some boo
Whittling and boo splitting with Speedy

Sauerkraut 1
All you need to make sauerkraut

Sauerkraut 2
All you need to do to make sauerkraut

Ax handling
Axe-Handling - or, shaping and fitting a new axe handle in under 15 minutes with David George

Ax blacksmithing
Speedy and Peter Birchall ... making me realise there's a literal shedload of toys that I never knew I wanted

Basket Weaving 1
Ashar starting a new project ...

Basket Weaving 2
... and with some of his exuisitely crafted 'Here's some I prepared earlier' pieces

Speedy scything 1
Speedy identifying the pointy end of the scythe ...

Speedy scything 2
... and then demonstrating the perfect style.

Donny Hobbs is a bit of a living legend in this part of the world - a wonderful person, very engaging and inclusive, even with little people whose legs were only slightly longer than the ruts that he and his horse Queenie were making in the paddock.

Donny Hobbs 1
Donny and Queenie

Donny Hobbs 2
Queenie and Donny

Donny Hobbs 3
Donny, Queenie, and an eager assistant

Donny also did the honours of dispatching two unwanted roosters -- demonstrating a fast and effective method of removing the feathers, and then dressing the animal, with minimal mess.

Donny with chicken 1
Stretching the rooster's neck ...

Donny with chicken 2
... then quickly dip it in close to boiling hot water ...

Donny with chicken 3
... so that the feathers come out easily ...

Donny with chicken 4
... resulting in a nicely plucked chicken ...

Donny with chicken 5
... that just needs a quick dressing (gut removal).

Part of the joy was watching the reaction of the kids, but again Donny was delightfully engaging, candid, and practical.

The final demo for us on Sunday afternoon was Ed and Speedy doing scythe sharpening and peening.

Scythe sharpening
Ed and Speedy peening and sharpening scythe blades

We only missed a couple of things, due to clashes with clean-up duty or with other discussions going on. Keffir grains and fermentation with Christine Corner, an overview of beekeeping with Max, and breadmaking with the Twelve Tribes contingent (who supplied some truly superb baked food - so much for my low-carb diet that weekend :)

All in all, a fantastic, enlightening, inspiring, and refreshing weekend.