May

May means garlic planting in the world of the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.  A total blur of everything garlic. Sitting around the kitchen table, ensconced in piles of garlic bulbs and cloves, buckets of soaking cloves, and cloves all laid out in neat rows for planting.  Every step of the process is absorbing, tactile and bathed in autumn light. Happy days.

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an early autumn morning, with garlic

It wasn’t always this way.  Gut-wrenching experiences of opening precious beautiful bulbs only to find them affected by mold, or quietly surveying drought damage as you try to comprehend the impacts on self, farm and income.  The harsh reality you hold in your hand is a good crop ruined and future crops threatened.  Yet in your heart the angst does not stay long because you have learned a lesson, and actually feel eager to implement improvements next year. This is what growing garlic does for me, it gives me focus, teaches me constantly and inspires me to try new things and improve.  And I get my hands dirty.

And then I read a quote by the poet and writer Mary Oliver, who put it all so beautifully:

I saw what skill was needed, and persistence — how one must bend one’s spine, like a hoop, over the page — the long labor. I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me that most joyful of circumstances — a passion for work.

Change out “page” to “soil” and “writing” to “growing” and there you have it.

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“a passion for work”

The kitchen garden continues to produce and feed us. Brussel sprouts are forming, a personal best with this plant. The broccoli has been harvested but thankfully succession planting is an option up to September so I see another feast situation evolving here.

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a tower of brussel sprouts – this is over achieving

The tomatoes are done. We officially called it with the final kilos processed only last week (mid-May). It was a bumper mid-season crop that came on very late in the season. A total haul of 58 bottles of cooked sauce (excluding meals made with fresh sauce), 10 jars of chutney, several containers in the freezer and gifts of many kilos to anyone we came across. Not sure if I’d include this in the “passion for work” idea now. Over it!

Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, rhubarb, spring onions, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, mint, and sage. Tasks to do include planting succession plants of broccoli, drying the mint, harvesting and cooking the rhubarb. Frost may have nabbed the best stalks but rhubarb is not a mainstay in our house so a little will go a long way. Although, I have been regularly amazed at how much better home grown vegetables can be so perhaps we will become converts.

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Photo by @allthebeautifulthingsblog I really admired this photo because this looks so civilised compared to our rhubarb monster.

Minimalism is something we admire and like many folks, continue to aspire to achieve.  Our owner build has been a staged process of downsizing from a 250sqm city house to a 100sqm rented cottage and then again into a 45sqm module. We have now built 150sqm.

As we build and revel in the new space we have noticed we are not that eager to fill it with stuff.  So it was with grit and determination we loaded up the truck and trailer with boxes of old gear and prepared to meet our dated, younger selves. With things in storage for so long, it made many of the usual questions about need/love/’what if’, and the associated feelings of guilt, almost redundant. Time and being out of sight has put distance between the object and our feelings.  A well documented tactic I can vouch for now.

So, the expected grind gave us a certain ‘lightness of being’ that comes from having let go of items and their cohort of emotions.  Our tactic to work through the gear in the shed, away from the house, ensured we had plenty of space to create the piles of keep/donate/sell. Or for vermin things to escape. Or we could shut the door in the middle of all the chaos. We did not get through it all, some boxes made it straight to the storage area as we got tired and wanted out (I suspect emotional avoidance).

I struggled with hanging onto unwanted gifts out of guilt. I found an idea highlighted by Courtney Carver in her book Soulful Simplicity very helpful. The true nature of gifts is in the exchange, the attributes of generosity, kindness, and love are not in the actual item. So by gifting unwanted items, you effectively continue the flow of generosity, kindness and love. We all know our world could do with more of that.

Booklist & Podcasts May

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May was a month of tasks, with lists suspiciously multiplying overnight, lengthening and never shortening resulting in the triage of WHOLE lists not just items on the list.

A Basket By The Door by Sophie Hansen, will shift your thinking about how to be supportive in the country manner and introduce you to Miranda, the cake (pg 185) that could feed a shearing crew and that has fed 2 households on a few occasions already.

Podcasts are coming into their own, a wonderful way to avoid TV.  I like how it works as a curated radio service only for me, with no callers or adverts to interrupt the lovely conversations I get to eavesdrop.  Favourites include Letters from a Hopeful Creative, David Tennant Does a Podcast with…, Cooking with an Italian accent, Chat 10 Looks 3 and The Food Podcast.  My very favourite, Dispatch to a Friend, is awaiting new episodes, as the 2 friends tromp over the Scottish Highlands, baking beautiful cakes and ravaging fields of flora.

Last word

What is interesting about the guilt of letting go is that the guilt doesn’t usually come from letting go.  It comes from holding on.  When guilt is attached to holding on, the only remedy is to let go.  I could continue to feel guilt about past mistakes, about my past debt, clutter, and busyness.  Instead, I’ve let it go so I can live today with purpose and joy.

Courtney Carver; Soulful Simplicity: how living with less can lead to so much more; pg 74

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for some May was all about garlic

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April

An April of delays and dry for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.  The early signs of autumn were stopped in their tracks here as rains failed to materialise.  Our weather has been cool, stunning, clear and bright as well as pretty dusty.

When we plan out a year of farm work, house build and garden planting we try to not overload any particular time of the year.  This year the best laid plans have been sent asunder with the odd climate we have been experiencing.

Plan: February and March are months dominated by fantastic kitchen garden yields, in particular the tomato harvest.  In the last March post, I lamented how the wonderful tomato crop looked like it was running out of time to ripen before the frosts of April arrived.  How wrong I was.  The warmer than normal conditions have seen the crop peak in April and I am harvesting 5kg a day of the most picture perfect fruit.

There are no complaints here.  The house is swamped by all manner of vessels overflowing with beautiful tomatoes.  It’s a daily mission to process the tomatoes into meals, soups, sauces, and chutneys.  Friends and neighbours are now receiving kilos of tomatoes as gifts.  This is all really wonderful.

Plan: April and May are my garlic crop planting months.  April is the month of continued bed preparation, cracking bulbs, counting and preparing cloves for planting.  This is when I get to revel in the beauty of the cloves, get hands dirty in the soil and generally play garlic farmer.

But the Plan is out the window! No happy garlic idyll for April. It has been too warm and dry to plant cloves out, at least not without an irrigation plan, something that is not usually required here.  So the plan to plant garlic over Easter was shifted to a week later when the temperatures dropped below 25 degrees C during the day.  Rain is due tonight and we have everything crossed in the hope of some coming our way.

The vegetable garden continues to thrive, as it receives supplementary watering, and the warm weather means crops keep producing.  So there is this cross over between summer crops and autumn crops, tomatoes alongside broccoli, garlic coming up amongst the tarragon. Its just plain freaky!

Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes tomatoes, kale, spinach, peas, cucumbers, rhubarb, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and sage.  The broccoli heads are forming, the brussel sprouts have survived the grazing and the succession pea plants are just sprouting.

The garlic paddock planting has started.  This year the focus was on improving the soil nutrition and we spent a lot of time applying layers of organic matter, manure and soil additives.  This year the cloves were pre-soaked before planting. Pre-soaking the cloves in a seaweed and microbial solution is a great way to combat planting stress, encourage strong root growth (and in turn enable better soil nutrient uptake by the plant), and provides a bit of inoculation against fungal issues on the clove or in the soil. Our method is to use 25ml of Seasol and 50ml of EM1 Bokashi liquid, diluted into 1 litre of water.  I can’t over state the difference it made to the cloves.

These cloves were soaked for 36hrs (don’t extend soaking beyond 72hrs) and they had already produced roots at the base. It makes it so very obvious now why I need to keep the water up to them, for the plant and to ensure the nutrients in the soil are made available to the plant.  Where is that rain?

Planting in April is about the early season garlic.  May is about the mid and late season garlic.  We are effectively half way through planting the crop.  They are bedded in under 10cms of straw mulch.  This year we fluffed the mulch, unfortunately, the next day the wind picked up. There is straw everywhere but on the actual garlic beds.  I doubt there is a solution here that does not involve construction of some kind of windbreak – but that is our whole focus here!

The owner-builder adventure continues albeit hard to show.  We have used solid Tasmanian Blackwood timber around the windows and doors.  It looks fantastic, but it is very hard to photograph in a way that reveals its significance to the build.  Very early on in the project, we read the finishing stage would take the most time and money of the build.  We did not realise it would also have the least impact on us.  Seeing it actually finished is very, very wonderful and yet we are rather blase about it all, almost as if it had always been there. Is it possible that our vision of the finished house is what we always saw regardless of the amount of unfinished wall, bolts and structural steel on show? Or maybe we just know there is still so much more to do! Celebrate each tiny advance is a fair motto in such a mammoth project.

Easter of course! We do not practice any religion in our house but are lucky enough to live in a country that recognises this holiday period.  It is a time to tackle big jobs or even plant the garlic crop but this year weather and travel commitments saw us very much eating, resting and spending time with our friends as we put hard work on the back burner.  I made my first panettone, a significantly belated event given how many of these I have eaten over the years, and of course a batch of hot cross buns (sans cross).  Both of these wonderful, easy and successful bakes came courtesy of Nadine Ingham of Flour and Stone bakery fame.  I am a convert, both bakes will be happening again very soon, to help me celebrate garlic planting at the very least.

Book list April

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All are truly wonderful books this month

 

I read this quote on Sarah Wilson’s Instagram page, it is with deep admiration and mirth I gift this to you my friends…

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fast asleep on the door step, waiting

 

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thanks for reading!

 

March

During March, the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor enjoyed the last few golden days of summer, and revelled in the cool change and rain. This month of season shifting is full of hope and energy.  With the reveal of autumn, the leaf colour change, mushrooms in the paddocks and the orb spiders with their expansive webs, there is plenty of preparation. Garlic crop, kitchen garden, paddock tree plantings, and house build all dominate. The folk and tractor did run new fencing lines, worked the garlic paddock and lifted loads of wood, whilst the dog, well, she took to snoozing and catching happy rays on her bed, her plans well executed.

When we started our owner-builder adventure we thought we had thoroughly investigated and assessed all things building, finance and personal, making sure we had the means to achieve this big project.  How do you prepare when you have no previous experience of this scale of project?  Perhaps if you truly knew what was involved you may not start? There have been many amazing things achieved by amateurs in various fields of endeavour.  They say fortune favours the brave (and, I add, the persistent), but note they don’t say the best financial managers, or the best at quantifying, or the smartest.  It would seem whenever you embark on a big adventure you can not fully comprehend the whole project, all you can do is be brave, start and persist.

I have no regrets about starting this house build (and garden build and farm enterprise start-up).  Apart from new skills, I have learned a little more patience, perseverance and to focus on what is in front of me, not the future. I definitely have moments of feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, wondering if the house build will ever end. Yet more often there are moments of inordinate excitement at the slightest achievement.

With the kitchen finished we are itching to progress the earthworks for the final house module, courtyard and western deck.  Be prepared for way too much information on concrete mix (aka mud) than is socially acceptable.  I also need to source a very very good hand cream.  We enjoy this type of work, especially in winter, as we get a bit of a routine going and brickwork is so much more rewarding than plasterboard work, for us anyway!

The vegetable garden is a microcosm of wonder and angst at the moment.  It is with joy (see inordinate excitement at small achievements above) that I can show a pic of home grown, fully formed, EDIBLE, cucumbers. We grew 10 fruit of 2 plants so there is a pile there to learn about maximising harvest volumes etc.  But I’ve seen it’s now possible and that is a good space to find myself.

Frustratingly, the tomatoes are fast running out of time to ripen.  I’m harvesting about 4kg per week but, as you can see, there is a stunning cascade of perfect green fruit, soon to be hit by pests or frost. At any whiff of a frost we will hoik out the plants and hang them upside down in the shed to encourage the late developers.  We could source locally grown tomatoes to meet the 20kg min target but that is not why we grow vegetables.

We grow vegetables for the taste and health benefits associated with fresh organic produce; for the mental and spiritual benefit of a connection to the earth, the seasons and life; the constant challenge to improve yields, and survival rates; and to change the world view from blindly accepting industrialised mass consumerism.  To grow some part of your food chain yourself is so empowering that I am beginning to think the TV show, Gardening Australia, is actually subliminally promoting a fantastically subversive paradigm rather than a helpful national gardening programme.

Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes asparagus (I so need help with this), kale, chives, spring onions, rhubarb, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage.  Plantings I’d like to progress are broadbeans and peas.  The broccoli and brussel sprouts are planted and busy growing, and being eaten by something largish that is not human.

The garlic paddock bed preparation continues as we barrel towards Easter.  I plant our early season crop (Turban group) at April and the late season crop (Standard Purple Stripe group) a month later in May. This is just the time construct that suits us.  The ideal time to plant garlic is when the seed (clove) has a shoot that is 2/3rds of the way up the clove.  You can only know this from cutting a clove open, comforted by the fact you can eat it later, so nothing is wasted.  From my experience waiting until the shoot is bulging out the top won’t produce the best bulbs, but still useable.  For the seed shown here, some are ready to go now, yet others have a week or 2 before they are ready for planting.  I just love how this plant accommodates our circumstances, regions and climates.

We have also been working the beds to improve the soil.  Last season the crop suffered in size due to a lack of water and nutrients.  Thankfully they cured very well, so this part of the production process is solved, for now (yes, climate change is real).  In accordance with our regenerative grazing practice, we moved the sheep onto their next paddock so we could work the beds.  This involves adding plenty more manure (sheep and chicken), household compost, lime, and microbial mixtures (EM1 Bokashi).  We then dig it all in and test the soil pH, looking for a result in the range between 6.5 and 7.  This creates a neutral environment required to encourage nutrient takeup, improve water holding capacity and encourage soil fauna and microbial activity.

Two standout events attended this month were the book launch of “A Tree in the House” by Annabelle Hickson and a Creatives Retreat at Mt Henry Homestead, Binda, NSW.

Instagram has been a wonderful way for me to connect to like-minded folk, ask questions, be educated and find support.  It reduces feelings of isolation (or negative mind babble) and is a source of inspiration.  Walking into this book launch was like walking into a party with all the confidence of knowing everyone in the room, and liking them.

The retreat at Binda was along the same lines, despite only knowing 1 person there well enough to call a friend.  I now have 12 new friends, remarkable, creative, inspiring women who have gifted me so much.  I stood in the same spots as they did, only they captured much more than I ever could.  I am in awe of them, they are true creatives.  And boy did we eat well!

The honeycomb picture below represents a quiet moment.  I was surrounded by the sound of new female voices, a joyous cacophony of delight, cries of recognition, conversation and lots of laughter.  All jammed into a country kitchen and magnified fantastically.  Suddenly everyone, as if by some telepathic agreement, left the kitchen and I was struck by the quietness left behind, my natural habitat.  At this moment I did see late afternoon sun bathing the kitchen table, warming the honeycomb and oregano and filling the room with the scents of late summer.  I felt reassured and calm in this unfamiliar place.

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the scents and colour of late summer

 

Book list March

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Inspiration and food, the novels just did not cut it this month

Inspiration to work with flowers, ravage roadsides and friends gardens in the name of creative license via “A Tree in the House” and the beautifully told story of a family and wonderful Italian food that speaks only love in “Tortellini at Midnight”. With all the socialising and farm work novels barely got a look in let alone stayed with me.  Again recommendations from 2 female TV folk, who are clearly not my book type.

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential

Sir Winston Churchill

A project is a statement of faith in the possibilities of our own growth

The School of Life

 

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I could lose hours just staring

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February

This February the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor were decidedly busy on all things NOT tomato related.  For the first time in 6 years, our February was not dominated by the tomato harvest and preserving.

The kitchen garden is producing well at the moment.  We clearly have a tomato forest, despite the new trellis system, with plenty of green tomatoes just on the cusp of ripening.  In the last 2 days of February, I’ve collected 1kg of our expected harvest of 20kg.  A year ago I noted tomatoes do not need to ‘ripen on the vine’ to improve in flavour.  Ripening indoors certainly takes the pressure off worrying about any insect attack.  The kitchen garden supports a small flock of sparrows, geckos, and lizards who feed on the known bugs in the garden. I provide water and real estate in return.  The generosity does not extend to the rabbit who has found the kale, just how do you remove this pest? Hopefully, once Ginger the Airedale terrier is back on free-range duty the rabbit will move on.

It is with much joy I can include a picture of my first ever triumphant cucumber flower (with a sister flower hiding behind the leaf – that makes 2!) and our first Cox’s Orange Pippen apple.  All previous attempts to grow cucumbers failed due to pest attack, lack of water, and wind snapping stems.  This tiny, and I suspect, way too late to fruit, flower gives me hope for next season.  Over the failed attempts I have learned cucumbers take much more water than you think and need plenty of protection of their main trunk.  I adapted some old plastic pots which worked a treat.  As I have not got past this point previously I am sure there are more lessons in store!  For the apple, this was the only one of 8 to survive to picking, on one tree of 10 (other varieties).  I confirm this variety of apple tree is tough.  It has survived years of insufficient water, bad pruning, and sheep grazing. Takeaways for me, water every day, don’t let fruit set for the first 2 years to establish the plant, prune well and keep the sheep out. This apple represents deep patience and looks so good…and I’m too nervous to taste it.

This year I found the time to hedge the rosemary border before it set flower.  This sounds at odds with regular wisdom.  However, there were no flower buds evident and our autumn is sufficiently warm to ensure a good amount of new growth and flower before winter arrives. Rosemary is a major food source for bees here during late autumn and winter.  Last year I felt pretty sick having to hedge the border during its flowering time, so much so that I did it bit by bit to give the hard-working girls a chance.  It dragged on a bit, to be honest. I hope this approach will avoid such a palaver.

Fresh produce in the kitchen garden this month includes kale, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, basil, the last of the peas, tomatoes, and rosemary. Plantings to progress are broccoli, brussel sprouts and peas.

To distract us from the looming black hole of no tomatoes, we have put our energies into fencing new paddocks off for sheep, attending sheep farm tours and eating our way around local shows.

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Scones with jam and cream – what else?

We had a great day visiting 10 local sheep farmers in the area for the Gunning leg of the Flock Ewe Competition (a friend of mine burst out laughing when they head this – I’m yet to confirm if its deliberate, which I highly suspect, or country charm).  What hit home is how different folk farm differently and it’s been a god-awful year for most of them. We saw plenty of sheep, all in pretty good shape given the drought conditions, and plenty of sheds, some centuries old and others modern monoliths.

The garlic paddock is under preparation, with the sheep now camping in the area where the new beds will go. Where sheep camp is where the manure and urine are most concentrated.  Along with mountains of collected manure, organic inputs such as vegetable compost and microbial inputs are my key method for developing our soils into rich dark earth teeming with microfauna and flora.

Planting plan this year includes cultivating the soil to a min of 40cms; heavily fertilise with sheep manure; add soil improvers such as EM1 microbial solutions, and vegetable compost; mulch heavily but ‘fluffily’; and water consistently rather than wait on mother nature.

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The best and worst 2018 garlic crop

I thought I’d show a pic of the best and worst garlic from my crop this season. It is disheartening when you get bulbs like the one on the left, but to give garlic its due, this plant, despite the lack of water, attack by Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and insufficient nutrients, still managed to produce a bulb I can plant.  This is what they call a super clove.  Typically produced when a garlic plant goes into stress mode.  It makes the call to put all its energies into producing one clove rather than several tiny cloves.  If I plant this super clove out, in the right conditions, it will outperform a clove from an ordinary bulb.  So all is not lost – what a remarkable plant to grow.

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timber, scaffolding and in the background a wood working space – this is our living room

The owner-builder adventure continues with the delivery of the solid Blackwood timber we are using to surround our windows, door frames and the huge 4m shelf in the kitchen.  We have saved up for this for the last few months and to see it safely inside the house is a moment of excitement.  Does anyone else live with scaffolding and bundles of wood in their main living space?

Book List February

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knitting = audio books and podcasts

Audio book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I thoroughly recommend.

It was a real mixed bag this month.  On recommendation from ‘others’ I read the books written by Melanie Benjamin and I was left underwhelmed.  I enjoyed The Wife by Meg Wolitzer as the voice of the female protagonist is very believable and authentic (now there is a word for the times).  I’ve included Flour and Stone by Nadine Ingham (again) because for the first time ever I made choux pastry, as in profiteroles and eclairs. Oh yes, let me repeat, I can make profiteroles and eclairs, albeit funny shaped and sans cream.

I have (finally) discovered podcasts and the one that has caught my heart is Dispatch to a Friend by Annabelle Hickson and Gillian Bell. What I like about a podcast is that it is not like the radio where you have to suffer the comments by other listeners or topics on subjects from the far right or left of politics, or politicians for that matter! A key reason for why podcasts and audio books are now firmly in my life is that I have worked out I can knit whilst listening to them. How I revel in the double indulgence.

Last word

The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility – Paulo Coelho

 

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Paddock walk finds. The strength and fragility are so evident.  Can you see the lambswool in the nest?

 

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January

This January was full of milestones for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.  Another shearing day under our belt, progress in the house build and celebrating our first year of storytelling here on this blog.

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I’m listening.

Exactly a year ago, in the first post, I showed a picture of zinc coated kitchen cabinetry – bespoke in all the glory of the word.  Time is a benefit to the owner-builder, not in an economic sense, rather the ability to take time in deciding design and materials. With the chance to experiment and explore the more unorthodox solutions and get creative in the process you too could end up with bespoke cabinetry. Below are pictures of the kitchen today, along with the construction phases, finished with the originally designed wood cabinetry. There are quite a few marine notes to this landlocked build, only out here we joke about how we may have mislaid the water and the boat but have plenty of wind to sail a house.

I am amazed at how much warmth the natural wood has added to this central space. After many test pieces we settled on a native wood to avoid painting construction wood, the use of plastic wrapped cabinets, high maintenance marble or highly reflective glass.  Wood seemed to address these issues, was a medium we can work in with easy access.  The next step is to add some greenery and personal touches that make cooking, sitting, discussing and working in the space all the more pleasurable.

We have experienced the hot version of every season this month.  Summer started bang out of the gates with multiple 5 day runs above 35°C – blowing the average number of 5 days in summer out the window. Thankfully these vile runs of heat have been punctuated with much cooler misty moisture laden mornings and afternoon downpours (read: heightened garlic curing anxiety).  I note I only seem to photograph the rain days and not the high searing eye blinding heat days.  In context, I never thought I would view a day of 33°C as a ‘cool change’ but either my new found climate adaptability or a new level of insanity is finally at play.

We had our 2nd shearing day just after New Year.  Planning starts at least a month out in order to fit in with various crew commitments. Excluding death, fires and rain, the date set is the date you shear.  This time it was the first of the 40°C heat cycles for the month.  Even with a very early start, in an attempt to beat the heat, we were grateful this was a small flock.  Shearing at this time of year was a new experience and with the time spent ensuring water, shade and safe cartage for the days leading up to shearing day we don’t plan to repeat the timing.  It’s stressful on the human and woolly folk.

Shade from mature trees is what we crave at our exposed site during these extreme weather events. Trees provide both shade and airconditioning on hot days, something all animals need. We don’t have enough mature trees throughout the paddocks and around the house despite our planting efforts. Without sufficient shade, the extremely hot weather makes rotational grazing difficult to implement in our regenerative practice.  On a long list of limitations, we have yet to resolve having only 2 mature shade-giving trees on the property.  These 2 trees need to cover 3 months of potentially super hot weather and accommodate 4 months rest between use.  After grazing the first paddock, let’s say for a month, it is ideal to rest this paddock for 4 months to ensure sufficient regrowth of pasture.  After the first month, the sheep are moved to the next paddock with a tree and once this month is up, where can they go?  They can not go back to the first paddock, as it will risk over-grazing the plants.  Perhaps in a year with normal rainfall, the pasture may have regrown more quickly enabling us to reduce the rest period – but that is not our experience this year.  So we face opening up untouched land with very long grass and juvenile tree lots.  Read plenty of fencing work and taking the tractor out into the paddocks in hot dry conditions.  Something we always try and avoid to reduce the risk of starting a fire.  Machinery, dry grass, and an unseen granite rock are all you need to create havoc.  This requires another vehicle loaded with water shadowing the tractor. A tense day for all. One day, after much more experience and sound practice, our place will be a rare haven in times of heat stress.

The kitchen garden is ever evolving.  The perennial rhubarb and tarragon are well established, the chives, spring onions and parsley are looking good.  I have planted more peas and am trying cucumbers again.  The tomatoes are thriving.  This year I am trialing using a trellis system for the 2 varieties, San Marzano (Italian plum) and Rouge de Marmande (French beefsteak).  The idea, from “Backyard Bounty” (ABC Organic Gardener, ABC books, 2017), is to reduce time spent staking, tying and thinning the bushy plants.  I usually plant 20 homegrown seedlings in a highly fortified fenced off area in the vegetable patch. I do have to grow more than I need to compensate for humans, inquisitive sheep (fencing testers extraordinaire) and failing irrigation.  Ruthlessly any plants that don’t make it into the secure zone are given away.

Book List January

I mixed it up this month, with a long and engaging listen to “A Gentleman in Moscow” on Audible and some print books.  The audible book was over 17hrs of listening. I listened to it at night before bed, forcing me to sit still, like TV does, but with many more benefits.  It definitely extended the experience of the novel because I am confident I would have read/gobbled the book much faster, but not managed the Russian names anywhere near as beautifully.

2019 01 audible book, a gentleman in moscow by amor towles

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With all the hot weather I have really struggled to put myself near any heat source such as a BBQ, gas hob or oven.  My reading list reflects my attempts to produce satisfying raw vegetable dishes, with the book by Nadine Ingram vicariously feeding any baked goods cravings. In the Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk, I came across an interesting suggestion that we need to move from being ‘less bad consumers’ to ‘producers’ in order to change the world from mass consumerism and industrialised farming.  Putting utopian ideals aside, he suggests growing your own vegetables instead of purchasing organically grown vegetables, harvesting rainwater and cycling it on your land rather than buying a water saving device and so on.

Last word

Worrying pretty much all of the time isn’t a sign that something has gone wrong, merely that we’re properly alive.

School of Life, cards on resilience 2018

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The relief you feel when something that’s definitely foreign in your boot reveals itself to be benign

 

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December

December in which the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor work around the rain and a Christmas full of comfort and joy.

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Rain is a good thing with caveats

The thing about rain and rural life – well it’s just not straightforward as “Yay, it’s raining!”  If you have a farmer in your life, drill down on their thoughts on rain, and not just the polite conversation assimilation commentary.  I’d also ask you withhold judgment if they seem a bit, well, Pollyanna, here’s my take…and my experience is embryonic.

When we lived in the city rain was really only seen as something that might impact on whatever social/sporting event we may have had planned.

When we went rural as a ‘lifestyle choice’ rain became something that was good because it helped the grass grow.

After a while, we realised the grass is really pasture and needs more than rain to grow, so we brought in livestock to help improve the soil, which along with the rain, improves the pasture (see earlier posts).

So here we are, 5 years on, with livestock, garlic crop and pasture to grow.  Rain is a mixed bag now – what matters is the quantity, type and timing.  Yes, we celebrated the December falls, however, it cost me my peace of mind.

I fretted because rain and warm weather brings out the bugs, debilitating sheep and causing fungal disease in garlic to become rampant. Last year I lost a significant portion of a stunning garlic crop to rot whilst curing, a lesson that is protecting this year’s crop beautifully.  This year we had our first experience of fly strike on a sheep.  Timely action and an experienced farmer means all is well. Positive outcome yes…however, I was left struggling with thoughts of ‘how to dispatch sheep humanely’, and this has not been resolved. This is one of those skills you just dread having to acquire, but to be able to do so humanely and respectfully is something I aspire too, which sounds most odd to say.

Furthermore, if it had not rained, well then other concerns would have filled the void and cost me my peace of mind! Perhaps there is something else going on here?  See one last thing…

Our sheep husbandry skills continue to grow.  After the last drenching session, the 2 folk were wormed thoroughly but significantly the same thing could not be said about the sheep.  More ended up on the two of us than actually down the necks of the sheep.  However this session, either the sheep were more comfortable, or the few lessons paid off, but the job is done, done well and in good time.  So with the slightest of swaggers, sheep drenching – √.  Never going to nail shearing but happy to settle for the ‘taking part with enthusiasm’ certificate.

We had our first experience of foraging, which I posted on Instagram @longview_garlic  about finding a summer gold bounty of apricots. It is a story of disbelief, joy and a happy place…but not gluttony. Mind you I was not the only one to spy the bounty and I think local folk moved fast to secure fruit before a travelling stock group made their way past the tree.

Garlic beds are empty – harvest 2018 is complete.  I thought I would be pulling the last of the garlic in Jan but after flashing around some pics and listening to those with more experience than me, this year the late season garlic got pulled a month early.  Once again it’s a mixed bag but I’m told it’s very normal to expect a distribution of bulb sizes in a crop.  I am grateful I had the wherewithal to plant a ‘test bed’ of the late season crop as I had no experience growing it.  The testbed crop seriously outperformed the paddock crop and clearly showed me the soil in the paddock beds needs much more work to bring it up to scratch.  This will take me years to perfect. I still felt seriously deflated at the lack of brilliance in the paddock crop – classic reality check, again so very grateful I started a MICRO enterprise.

Christmas was a really lovely event.  Gentle, quiet and indulgent involving well-behaved humans and dogs, special food and simple decorations that hit the mark beautifully.  We avoided the hectic Christmas rush, gift shopping was via online at rural stores, other gifts were handmade so could not be rushed and food shopping was whittled down to specific farmers market stalls or purchased locally at farm shops. The pic of the real tree is more for posterity. It’s my way of marking progress on the house because if you look at the walls in the background, they are ready for lining with the Blackwood panels.  Last year they were bare corrugated metal.  Progress is progress and patience is torturous! It is also the first year I got my way and tree decorations were kept to fairy lights only. Simple and uncomplicated.

December booklist

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Books in printed form

The book list this month is in printed form because the audible form did not get a turn. I’m trying to work out how to incorporate listening to a book whilst still getting things done. The potential is properly inviting but I’ve not adjusted.  Same with podcasts. I suspect whilst driving has potential if the internet connection is maintained and I can avoid earbuds.  Working around the house will require earbuds as I’ve noticed noise from any activity interferes with the wondrous world being created for me. The simplicity of just picking up a book is being redefined. When did it become important to multi-task whilst reading? I’m not sure my brain can do that.

One last thing

We will never rid ourselves of anxiety entirely; our best bet is to try to give ourselves slightly more valuable things to worry about.

School of Life, cards on resilience 2018

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I like how the sheep calm each other with touch and closeness. If in need of comfort just bury your head into a friend and go zen…

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November

This November was all about starting the garlic harvest for 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.

Garlic harvest This year on the advice of older and wiser commercial garlic growers we delayed our harvest by 2 weeks.  It was a long wait, harder to take as we entered the last month of spring here, when rain is most likely to occur, and you try not to pull garlic in wet conditions.  We persevered and I think our garlic will store better.  It was a mixed result for the bulbs this year.  The drought conditions have resulted in smaller bulbs than previous years.

The learning curve has been very steep.  It’s quite a different ball game to grow garlic out in the paddock compared to in the veggie patch.  I imagine this is the case with any fresh produce.  This year we take away a long list of lessons covering every aspect of the growing cycle, from bed preparation through to hanging the garlic for curing.

All good produce relies on good soil.  Good soil actually takes time to create.  There are no fast fixes, spreads or sprays that will encourage organisms and biota to take up residence, work their magic and multiply in abundance if the conditions are not suitable. Don’t get me wrong, we have not finished throwing humus, compost or fertiliser at the garlic patch.  You can’t grow something in soil without it extracting something from the soil that will need replenishing.  Our lesson has been it’s never too early to start feeding the beds, with anything, preferably organic, you have to hand.  So no sooner have we harvested the garlic that we are now starting to prep the beds for next years crop.  This year I will apply more compost (our household bokashi and garden compost), more fertiliser in the form of biomungus, humic and mineral inputs and seaweed and fish emulsion products.  We have not invested in a wormery as we had a bokashi compost system in use, however this year I think for every compost application I will apply worm castings, in the hope we might encourage more soil biota.  Another trial will be spraying a molasses solution, a sugar hit for the soil.

One of the big leaps forward for domestic growers and consumers alike is the awakening to the joys of fresh garlic.  Given the breadth of this land, Australia is in a rather remarkable position of being able to enjoy fresh garlic all year round.  Until now we just did not know it, why?  For my 2 cents worth, because the supermarkets and the government funded overseas suppliers had us accepting cured garlic as the only option.  It stores and travels better – for a fresh food this is gold in commercial terms – just not for the consumer.

With the uptake in interest in fresh garlic, we found ourselves prepping the bulbs before harvest officially started.  Spring or Green garlic is a delicacy that has such a short window of availability it gets snapped up.  But as growers around the country start to plant a wider variety of garlics there will be more opportunities.

Fresh garlic has a colour and smell to it that is truly delectable.  Softer in flavour when raw it is so very versatile.  The whole bulb is used, there is no need to peel the cloves as the skin is still fleshy and has not turned papery, as it should do when cured correctly.

 

Book List November

This month I discovered Audible, a service that reads books to you, what luxury!  Although I will say I read faster than the person speaks, it is a fantastic way to immerse yourself into a book.  I listened to ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman, read by Cathleen McCarron.  The novel is set in Scotland, so to hear it read with a Scottish accent really put me in the novel.  Wonderful story, deeply insightful, laugh out loud funny and moments of tears and pain.  The central character, Eleanor Oliphant is so rich and complex, you fall in love with her and look at your friends with a bit more kindness.

Final word

You aside, no one is carefully keeping track of your idiocies.

School of Life, cards on Resilience 2018

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Run lambsy, run!

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