Last month the blog was short – be prepared this month is even shorter. The 2 folk, the dog and the tractor have found themselves living a repetitive blur consisting of:
smoke haze nights
smoke haze days
sleeping, reading and tea
Extreme weather, all things garlic, food/sleeping/reading
Days of very early starts to beat extreme heat and dust-laden winds. Water, the most precious of commodities at the moment, is shared sparingly between humans, animals, bees, and plants. The smoked out mornings are deceptively reminiscent of lovely overcast cool starts, the watered plants seem to be thriving compared to the drought-affected dry brittle grass of the paddocks. If we knew rain was coming our minds would be reading this differently, more positively. The pics show how dry, dusty and unforgiving our landscape is at the moment.
We did Christmas, plenty of gatherings around food and good folk, all of us preoccupied with the drought and fires. Such events are vital, if only to get you out of your head and to ask how others are coping, hoping to learn something from those more experienced and resilient. Only this is unprecedented out here, we have no point of reference.
It is with a sense of pleasure that 2019 comes to a close. Plans to post a ‘decade in review’, a reflective and thoughtful conversation about the start of our adventure here will have to wait. May the next year bring you and yours all your heart desires, rudely good health, great prosperity and grand adventures.
It’s garlic harvest, the month before Christmas and the 2 folk the dog and the tractor are going to keep this short.
For those who have followed along for awhile it is quite apparent we have focused our planting on trees and a vegetable garden. Only last month did we start to plant flowers in response to our bees arriving on site. So it is with great fanfare that we announce the arrival of our first peony flower. Oh the pride…
To put this in context; 20 or so plants salvaged from a friend’s house, 5 years in pots, fully exposed to the elements, watered by hand, tendered with truly no idea what to do and finally we see a flower from one of the surviving/thriving 15 plants. With the weather we have been having this is nothing short of remarkable.
The 2 folk continue to fence and create new paddocks. The tractor is key to this as we use the post hole digger attachment to install the main gate and strainer posts. Apart from the cost of materials, it is mostly about physical effort and that is always made harder when the weather gets a spike of crazy heat. The 2 folk don’t like working in 35°C and even the dog is happy to stay lounging indoors.
Rant warning: The hot weather has been accompanied by some terrible dry winds and walls of dust. The conditions are causing hundreds of fires up and down this side of the country. Exposing the utter lack of policy and leadership by the government and the impact of years of slowing gutting a primarily volunteer based fire fighting system in rural Australia. It turns out the equipment used by the Californian’s in their fire fighting season is shared with Australia during our fire season….only now the season’s are over-lapping. I don’t care if you call it climate change or the 100 year event or climate evolution – that is evidence something is changing faster than our government’s twee little political brains can handle. Rant over.
The kitchen garden has entered the ‘spring famine’ period. All the brassica’s, broadbeans, parsley, and peas have been pulled out and the tomato seedlings are in place. After a final bumper crop of broadbeans and PSB fresh produce we are now harvesting includes chives, spring onions, perpetual spinach, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Great frittata ingredients. There is the odd cherry and strawberry but sadly the much anticipated blueberries were fried in the hot dry winds. Despite plenty of water it does not look like they will become edible. The homegrown capsicums were thriving – until about Day 2 in the vegetable patch. Something took them out and I am yet to work out what. The bush beans have flowers on them and the apples are still hanging on. A mixed bag that highlights the desperate need for us to build a more sheltered kitchen garden area, I’m thinking one with a wall around it…Tasks for the next month include planting the potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, basil, salad leaves and succession planting for the beans, capsicums and corn.
tomatoes in place
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November was all about the harvest of the early season Turban garlic. Harvest time is a mixed bag of excitement and trepidation. Excitement to see how the crop performed this year (the whole bulb growing underground thing, you know?). Nervous because what if it’s a massive failure because something went wrong and the whole crop is affected….there are plenty of options to choose from.
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Such is the life of any grower of fresh produce I suspect. This year, thankfully, the crop is looking much healthier than last year. The bulbs are larger, the plants seem more vigorous and their colour is vibrant. The lessons learned this year, keep me enthralled for the next attempt. As this is the 2nd year growing in this space, it is time to rotate the crop out to new ground. Another ball game again.
For now, there is good healthy crop curing in the shed. In a few weeks time I will harvest the mid season crop, the Creoles. No rest for the wicked, what fun!
Book list November
After years of purchasing multiple panettone this year we will make our own…AND purchase some! Thanks to Nadine Ingham’s beautiful book “Flour and Stone” filled with recipes from her bakery of the same name in Sydney. “Everything is Figureoutable” by the dynamo that is Marie Forleo is a powerful and practical call to arms, for yourself. But without doubt the stand out book in this list is that by Charles Mackesy, “The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse”. I came to this via his Instagram account, and it seems the English author has struck a chord with half the universe. Utterly touching, his drawings and thoughts on courage and kindness will stay with you.
From Charlie Mackesy’s book – one of many pages that resonate.
This month the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor got busy with the bees, building shelter, growing food and checking hives, oh and started the garlic harvest.
Our bees have landed. It is a warm spring evening, we are donning our protective clothing and laughing as our friend regals us with tales of unhappy bees. Disconcertingly he has a lot of stories. As the sun sets we close up the front door, heft the hive up onto the ute, and mentally apologise to the foraging girls left behind. It is dark by the time we get the girls to their new digs. Far windier, exposed and flower lacking than their townie paradise. Over the next few days we are vigilent, nervously checking they are accepting their new situation rather than swarming off in disgust/desperation. 3 weeks on and their impact is already evident in the apple orchard, nursery and vegetable patch. So far so good.
Self build reality check. How does a month, representing 8 days of potential house building, go by without a scintilla of progress.
Sometimes you just have to order stuff and cha cha.
Whilst work on the house is in a holding pattern, the kitchen garden continues to produce and naturally draw our attention. We are harvesting asparagus, PSB, parsley, chives, spring onions, broad beans, spinach, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Out of pure concern for the bees adjusting to their high wind low fodder environment here, the kale, calvero nero and brussel sprout plants were left to flower well past their human use by date. However, the home raised tomato seedlings are only days away from being planted….so the brassicas are now out and the PSB has been harvested and there is a fabulously HUGE gap just fallowing. The bees have the borage, apples, lavender, strawberries…
I have berry, berry good news (he, he, he). We have blueberries and strawberries just starting to ripen. I now know that blueberry season where I live is not according to those hothouse grown in another part of Australia. Sigh. Kinda kills the low food miles and seasonal eating goals. We are yet to ever suffer from too many berries so I potted up 13 raspberry and boysenberry plants, received as gifts. Until the bed design and prep work are done, in pots they will live, all going well.
The bees have worked their magic on the apple orchard. 40 teeny tiny apples have set on the one tree, so now I have to net and protect them from winged pests, all the while learning how to look after the babies. The pears continue to elude me. The few flowers I saw were snaffled by a certain Ms Woolly literally seconds after I photographed them, leaving me feeling rather deflated. Ms Woolly enjoys perusing the kitchen garden as my shadow, always eager, she has a snack snaffling technique of great prowess. The fact that she always looks so very helpful and hopeful means I can’t bring myself to shoo her off. This may change…
In September’s post, I said the garlic harvest was 6 weeks away, let me explain…I have had a shift in thinking to see green garlic as a vital component in a fresh seasonal eating diet, more so than cured garlic which is what we, as consumers, have been trained to expect by the supermarkets. Consequently, since mid-October, I have been harvesting green garlic and scapes. I know, I also said last month the Turbans did not scape before bulbing, well this year they decided to, which is why they are referred to as ‘weakly bolting’, depending on conditions they may choose to scape or not. Bless them, we are happy to take the scapes, leave a few of the prime plants to flower and produce bulbils for growing on to regenerate our ‘seed’ stock. The scapes are removed on emergence to maximise bulb size, easier said than done if you leave it 2 days between harvests – they grow fast. We will harvest this early season group when we are left with 5 GREEN leaves, say in approx 4 weeks.
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October book list
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it…boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
September for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor had everybody playing out in the paddocks. We had rain, snow, and sunshine so everything is popping a vibrant joyous green. All sorts of weather = all sorts of fun, farming fun anyway.
It is early morning and we are sitting with a big pot of tea between us around the kitchen table, silently pondering the day’s plan. As if by mutual agreement, the first cup of tea is drunk quietly, with an odd gentle musing that trails off into silence. The trick it seems is to ensure the plan is clear BEFORE the pot of tea runs out – otherwise, we need another pot of tea and the morning is half gone…
Fencing. There is a powerful sense of determination and focus in this one word. It seems to hang in the air over the pot of tea. We ponder the hours already spent preparing the run and the hours ahead of us in putting the line up. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is gently warming, and the air seems to be sparkling (probably from the snow we had 2 days previously). We work quickly, grateful all the hard work has already been done by the tractor. Many times we walk up and down the hill along the line. Out of breath at the top, it is so tempting to lie down on the freshly cut grass, inhale deeply and count clouds with the dog. We are learning to appreciate good picnic weather is actually good fencing weather. Next time we will bring the food too and have it all.
bulbing starts Turban
Best of Turbans 2019
In the garlic paddock the early season garlic (Turban group) is just starting bulbing. It’s another 6 weeks before harvest. This hardneck (weakly bolting) garlic will not produce scapes announcing the start of bulbing, so it’s been a test of the patience to wait and pull at the right time, although nothing goes to waste really. With the start of bulbing the fertigation regime changes and we hope for no more extreme weather events to confuse the plant that may lead to unusual growths (garlic or disease). It is also time to mark up the best performers. The plants seem to stand that bit taller as the ranks are reviewed, vying for the coveted gaudy orange ribbon reward. These plants form the backbone of the seed crop for the following season. All the attention is paying off, the plants look strong and vibrant, and it is always a good sign when you have more ‘best’ plants than ribbons to tie on.
PSB at last!
broad beans in flower
The kitchen garden is starting to produce asparagus, rhubarb, chives, spring onions, parsley and rosemary. The brussel sprouts, kale and calvero nero are done and going to flower. The celery cutting from a supermarket bunch has found its feet in the garden – this is an experiment. After years of wastage perhaps now we can cut some when we need it. The broad beans are in flower, flowers mean pods so this is good, as are the teeny tiny heads starting to appear on the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB). Standing there pondering next steps (read what to rip out to make room for spring plantings), I can hear the bees smothering the mass of flowers on the broccolini, kale and calvero nero. It makes me feel less guilty about the lack of rosemary flowers. Just wait, I whisper, the borage and apple are about to burst into bloom, until then, go play in the pear blossom.
bee cruising calvero nero flowers
pear tree flower
bee glued to the spring onion flower
Jobs to do include getting started on herb seed planting, beans, carrots, peas, cucumber, sweet corn and pumpkins, oh and new vegetable beds to carry all this. And then fencing.
Book List – September
working through it slowing
do seed packets count as reading?
List is stretching it, as there was really only one book this month, an airport purchase for a long flight, you know how travel makes you think bigger, more worldly. And then you come home and it doesn’t seem as relevant…leave it with me.
When The Never Ending To Do List just will not loosen it’s grip on your stomach/brain/heart this is one of those positive cut throughs that just seem to help you regain focus. And, just in case you missed it the first time…oh and should you feel inclined, google Arthur Ashe, what a story.
August for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor involved a lot of hard physical work, all of which were just mere baby steps towards a future end goal. It reminded me of that saying “look after the present and the future will look after itself” (attribution unknown). So we persevered, we progressed and we stayed present.
Proof of dog
the garlic patch in snow
it’s all so very dramatic
We got snow. That is one of the extreme weather events we are now being warned to expect in the years ahead, as a result of climate change. At 2 separate workshops this month it was universally accepted our local climate is changing and the issue is now how to grow food (for our animals and ourselves) or garden in this new paradigm. Is it a farmer/country thing to be so very pragmatic? The initial shock has not worn off. There seems to be a subtext of: work has to be done with no delay. Anger, frustration, and blame attribution have been swept aside, leave that to the city folk who are under the nose of the politicians. We have land, animals and our livelihoods to protect. The whole global thing is out of our control, focus on what you can change before it turns into a mental health issue…sadly the drought means that horse has bolted!
Despite the layer of snow, the kitchen garden is still producing wonderful amounts of parsley, rosemary, spring onions, brussel sprouts, kale and calvero nero. The purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) and the broad beans are growing, even the rhubarb is putting up leaves. The asparagus is starting to peek its head above the soil, it seems to have a lovely purple colour this year. The tomato seeds, planted on the 11th are now up. They started off in an enhanced soil raising mix in a tray on a heat mat. Tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants require a bottom source of heat to sprout. Now that the 2 true leaves are out, it is time to take them out of the seed tray and pot them up to grow on ready for planting in the vegetable patch in November. It is a mixed crop this year, heirloom beefsteaks such as Macedonian Pink, Gallipoli pink, Mortgage Lifter, and Rouge de Marmande, along with 2 x cherry tomato plants in response to a new found love of Ottolenghi’s baked rise with confit tomato and garlic in his new recipe book Simple pg 174. This year there are fewer (barely!) but higher yielding plants.
Tasks underway include planting the pollinator pear tree (Williams) which will be espaliered against a wall. So far it has been a case of rock picking rather than digging!
The tractor was put to hard work this month, then again any digging in our soils puts pressure on any machine and person. The bee garden has been started with the planting of a hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) hedge and the working of a garden bed space to take the french lavender (Lavandula dentata), russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), buddleia (Buddleia crispa), shrubby germander (Teucrium fruticans), poppy (Papaver paeoniflorum), blue globe thistle (Echinops ritro), salvia (Salvia azurea), scabious (Scabious atropurpurea) and blue sea holly (Eryngium planum) plants and seed sitting in the nursery for the last few years. All blues and silvers, colours the bees love, as do we. All are water and wind hardy plants typical of cool and warm temperate climates.
sticks of hornbeam now…
the ornamental pear has popped, the bees are happy
The house build continues with internal wall insulation and courtyard wall building. We use a hollow concrete block, re-enforce it with reo and then pour concrete down the cavity. This system is very efficient and requires the ability to use and read a level rather than any bricklaying skills. It also appeals to our love of the historical use of bricks to build massive public structures that still stand today.
Pet inspection: “But will it provide us with enough protection?”
Trench = wall = concrete
feet, footings and formwork
wall up, reo in, concrete due
Book List August
Sent to me by a friend in the UK, perfect timing. Clearly I am having attribution of quotes trouble this month. Always a fraught process, never any offense intended. May the sheep keep you in the present here just that wee bit longer.
The practice of staying present will heal you. Obsessing about how thh future will turn out creates anxiety. Replaying broken scenarios from the past causes anger or sadness. Stay here, in the moment.
This July’s story of the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor is about cultivation, actual and metaphysical. Whilst the tractor actually cultivated new garden beds and holes to plant trees, the bigger story, is that we cultivated a new sense of home.
We have a rather strict policy of owner-builder monastic living – no comforts allowed whilst the house is a building site. It’s hard to live with scaffolding, building materials and debris in your space with nothing of comfort or decoration allowed in. Totally a self-preservation tactic. Keep it bare and uncomfortable and then we will be forced to finish this project. Or so the theory went. It is a building site not a home, yet.
In a fit of creative energy (obviously the benefit of having had a month of “fallow time” in June) we decided to clear out the overrun spaces to assess next steps. Clutter clearing is actually a central tenant of the minimalist aesthetic as it is thought the creation of clear space rests the eye, amplifies what is in the space and brings feelings of peace and calm. Much has been written about the power of accumulated things and the associated feelings of overwhelm, guilt and identity (see book list below).
And it is certainly true. In our case, the clearing of the space helped us to see the potential, nature-inspired home we wanted to create. It seemed to re-invigorate our inventiveness and resourcefulness. It has opened our eyes to see what we do have around us is very much what we were working to achieve all along. We have been cultivating solutions to long-standing issues, like in-floor power outlets.
It is early afternoon on a midwinter’s day, clear blue skies, the sun is warm on my back and it’s a lovely time to go for a walk to forage for materials to make a wreath. I am also cultivating a bit of self-belief and creativity.
I have always admired seasonal wreaths. Earlier in the month, a creative co-adventurer and I went on a small road trip to visit another friend and her shop. In the shop there is a wonderfully large and simply decorated wreath on display with which I am smitten. Both friends are wreath makers and kindly dismissed the excuses I presented for why I had not tried making my own. For a long time, I had blamed our lack of garden, the half-built situation, and my lack of artistic skill as the reasons why I was not more creative. All are utterly effective self-imposed limitations – how good am I at self-flagellation! But with the clearing of the clutter (trumpets herald) my imagination was firing and in the days following the visit I cultivated an idea of what my own wreath would look like. There were times I dejectedly accepted just having to wait until I could afford to purchase one. “Just purchase one.” is a full and valid sentence. Yet it made me feel frustrated. It has been my experience that usually the purchased model is never quite right. I want a wreath made of natural materials sourced from our area reflecting the season and this place; a very simple and large scale design; one I could recycle once the dust and cobwebs became too much. Purchasing a pre-made wreath would not meet these criteria.
Eventually one morning, in the early hours before the negative voices were awake, I pondered on how I could start to make my own wreath. First hurdle seemed to be where to source the materials. Twigs can be purchased or foraged from the side of the road, I need something bendy, long and thin, whip-like…suddenly I knew where I could try. And that is how I found myself walking purposefully towards a stand of self-sown invasive elm saplings in one of our paddocks, secateurs in hand. Now every tree is looked at with different eyes, possibly no tree is safe…this hits so many cultivation goals.
In kitchen garden news the broad beans have popped. We really enjoy this crop and so over successive years have never suffered from a glut. Another happy announcement is we have started harvesting brussel sprouts, first time ever in our garden, despite years of trying. Of the 2 plants, only one produced sprouts along its stem. We are hoping it will flower and produce viable seeds, always tricky with nursery purchased seedlings. Unfortunately, the small army of purple sprouting broccoli is just taking forever to produce any heads.
Fresh produce this month includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, calvero nero, kale, spinach, parsley, spring onions, rosemary, sage (we still have leaves), thyme.
Upcoming tasks include pruning (another wreath!) and fixing the espaliered pear trees, improving and cultivating the soil in the new vegetable beds and finding the right spot to plant the 3rd pear tree this spring.
brassica crop, those brussel sprouts!
broad bean seedlings
The garlic crop has cultivated further learnings this year, primarily to be observant and comprehend drought affects EVERYTHING. A weekly inspection revealed pretty purpling on the leaves of some random plants. The initial fascination with the prettiness of it all quickly shifted like a bad gear change, my brain lurching to “this is not normal, what does this mean?”. Thanks to the generosity of garlic growers far more experienced than I, it was quickly diagnosed as phosphorus deficiency. The next step was to identify if it was because the plant can’t access this nutrient or is there no nutrient in the soil to access. So began a long and repetitive process to test the pH of the soil. Our tests revealed the pH was not in the prime range for the plants to access the nutrients in the soil. Garlic likes a neutral to slightly acidic pH range (7.5-6 pH). Our soil was sitting around 9 pH, highly alkaline. Why? Because organic improvements and microbes need water to assist in the decomposition process to release nutrients into the soil in a form accessible to the plants. So July has been dominated by rounds of soil testing, application of corrective sulphur, rest, test again, correct, rest and test and it’s not over yet. Alongside the testing is the weekly application of tonics of fish and seaweed emulsions and watering to compensate for the lack of rain. It’s a lesson in better soil cultivation and management at pre-planting and during growth. I have been cultivating soil, skills and knowledge and a weeny bit of confidence to reach out when things are not going right.
Book List July
For those interested in reading more about the power of decluttering and the minimalist aesthetic and practice these are some of the books I have found helpful. Marie Kondo is very well known and probably available at your local library.
I hope you find this as funny as I do. Traditionally called the Warrior Pose in Yoga.
June for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor has been a month of trying new approaches. After an intense May, a new ethos to rest and regenerate, along with timely health check-ups, left the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor feeling very…torpid.
And we are not comfortable….so we must be on the right track?
The other day I came across the term “fallow time” used to describe downtime for people and how it is needed to cultivate creativity. Just like the period of rest we usually associate with growing crops to rest and regenerate the land. I don’t think this idea is shockingly new, rather a timely reminder to build rest into the calendar AND to respect this time for the positive force it can be. As a self-confessed overly focused task list type person who aspires to a more creative life, this idea stopped me in my tracks. I can not describe how hard it is to not have a task list or to explain what I did with the last day/week/month. How terribly limiting it is to view time spent being creative as ineffective, financially unsound or morally questionable (being a very short hop to the Judeo-Christian judgments of laziness and idleness, a definite sin against the productive economy).
All this dovetails neatly with the concept of minimalism. By reducing the ‘to do’ list, and allowing time to sit and reflect has profound impacts on understanding what we value, what brings us joy and how to appreciate and connect to the present surroundings. To make the time to live more consciously redresses the “cult of activity” and busyness.
To answer the question, June was spent learning to change our approach to include more creativity and reflection and less execution – and it was HARD! Frustration at not enough hours in the day (to be idle and productive – go figure), fear of judgment by others for being lazy, panic at what would happen if something did not get done, and worry about how to describe the day all featured. Acceptance, kindness and generosity, to ourselves and others, emerged. Best of all? A sense of release from demanding self judgments.
It’s past the Winter Solstice and the fire has barely been used. Our woodpile is standing tall, yet in previous years we would be halfway through a tonne by now. It is a reflection of both the extended warm dry conditions and the wonderful way the solar passive house design comes into its own at this cold time of year. We are entering mid-winter carrying an average of 14-21°C inside when it is -1-16°C outside and half a tonne of wood.
The warmer and drier start to winter is sounding the alarm bells for both the garlic crop and pasture growth. Our nascent regenerative grazing practice is getting a hard start. No matter how intensely you improve the soils with organic fertiliser inputs, strip grazing and tree planting, none of this matters if there is not sufficient water to dissolve and feed the nutrients to the plants. Last year we did not recognise the impact of restricted water before it was too late and the garlic crop suffered (great flavour but reduced sized bulbs). This year, even actively working the crop to nurse it through these dry times, does not feel enough. Only when we harvest later this year will we learn if ignorance or experience is bliss…’cause at the moment all I feel is anxious.
Trench = wall = concrete
Pet inspection: “But will it provide us with enough protection?”
The house build continues with the courtyard wall begun. The 2 folk have been busy digging footing trenches to take re-enforced mesh cages in preparation for a concrete pour, signaling the start of the courtyard build. The dog has been busy reviewing, inspecting and making minor adjustments. Co-Captain has patiently discussed revisions of the original plans, and accepted the walls just have to be taller and the footings accordingly deeper (read a tonne of more work) to achieve the dream space of our imaginations. Only he did not know that was his dream at the time. There is only lots of concrete, reo and blocks ahead of us now.
Broccoli in flower
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Sulking broadbean seed
The kitchen garden is a mix of positives and negatives this month. The blueberry plants have flowers (flowers = fruit) and the purple sprouting broccoli, kale and calvero nero continue to thrive. The broadbean seeds are yet to sprout and the peas have been pulled out as they did not develop any pods and it is now too cold for them. Surprisingly, the parsley plants are still doing well despite the frosts. This has been the best year for the parsley to date. Perhaps the rosemary border is offering more protection from frosts than imagined. Unfortunately, the pruning in February has resulted in very few flowers on the rosemary and may explain the lack of bees in the garden and why the late peas did not thrive. Tip for next year.
Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes broccoli, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, rhubarb, spring onions, parsley, rosemary, and possibly the last of the sage. Tasks to do include propagating rosemary plants and continuing to harvest and use the rhubarb. Baking goal this month is a rhubarb and ricotta tart by Nadine Ingham in her book “Flour and Stone”.
The point of doing nothing is to clean up our inner lives.
The School of Life, “The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy”