June (not sure where May went)

May and June were busy months for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. Farm work dominated as we built (yet more) wicking beds and planted the garlic crop, conducted shearing, and managed livestock. Big or protracted events and projects demand so much of us, in the lead up, then the event itself, and then any fallout. Here we spend so much of our time feeling like we are flying by the seat of our pants, learning on the run, (of which there is so much) and getting things done in time for…. I can’t pick just one reason. Properly thrilling. I understand now you need healthy adrenal glands to cope with this farming lark. Yes, there are days of bucolic serenity. There are also days, surprisingly more than you think, demanding high energy and persistence. I actually signed up for this, happily unconsciously incompetent. We are now firmly on the consciously incompetent step of The Hierarchy of Competence. I guess that is progress.

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and breath in for 3, hold for 3 and out for 3…

I do love a country walk. In league with my neighbour we walk, at pace, for an hour or so each day. We don’t manage every day, who am I kidding! We walk past resting paddocks, paddocks with new lambs sprouting overnight, through tunnels under railway lines, past stock still rock wallabies (today we even saw a joey peeping out of the pouch) and tucked away cottages. There is plenty to see, little need to chat, and 2 puffing billies who simultaneously wheeze with relief when we reach the top of each rise, minor or major.

photos by Em Callaghan @Emcallaghan1

It is early morning, still dark as I push open the bright red door to the shearing shed. I can hear the sheep moving about, shuffling and clip-clopping on the wooden slatted floor, huddling to face the intruder. Except for the pet posse of 4, who instantly know my voice and hurry to me, ever hopeful I will save them from this whole flock humiliation they are enduring. With cooing noises and a gentle voice, I impart the hard news they have to ‘bear with’ that little bit longer, the shearer will be here soon. As I stand in the pens surrounded by the flock, I feel a deep sense of acceptance. The smell of penned sheep, the snorting sounds as they take turns to muscle through the crowd to check me out. I have their trust. Today it is shearing. My heart hurts, for in a month I will break this trust irrevocably as I lead them onto the truck to take them to market. This will be my first time to market, I am an utter newbie emotionally and by experience. I’m reassured seasoned farmers, good farmers that invest much effort and care into their animals, suffer too.  What is the best path to take here? Take comfort in that they have lived good lives (very good going by their condition in these hard times) or stand here and own the act of betrayal.

I realise I have to do both.

A ute pulls up outside.

Onwards. The shearer has arrived and there are kettles and motors to start, wool packs to set out and sheep to pen up.

House build remains at a standstill as our energies are consumed by the farm. This was always going to happen, wasn’t it? You start to build your dream home, then it morphs into your dream life. We could just stick to building and completing the house and then move onto creating the gardens and then the farm enterprise. Some folk follow this trajectory. I guess I had a fear we would end up looking like a square box in the middle of a grassy paddock, utterly out of context. So the garden, especially the kitchen garden, was always a concurrent project with the house build. I guess the farm enterprise was the unforeseen part, the desire to work our land, rejuvenate paddocks with livestock and then manage the livestock. And now here we are, living our dream life with a partially built dream house. What an unexpected turn of events. Don’t say I did not warn you!

pics by Em Callaghan @Emcallaghan1

Garlic crop is finally finished. This year’s new varieties and growing processes definitely took longer to bed in – but in nonetheless. The wicking beds will prove to be bigger than us and our garlic crop. As I worked them it dawned on me their value in enabling those with restricted mobility to realise a produce growing enterprise. Especially for those who are looking at losing their rural livelihoods and lifestyles. It is not the same as farming land, more like soil science, without a tractor.

The kitchen garden is full of fabulous green stuff. It is producing spinach/silverbeet, rocket, coriander, lettuce, lemon thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage (barely), brussel sprouts, kale, and broccoli. The broad beans, peas, cabbages, and cauliflower continue to grow well, responding to the cooler weather. The carrots, or rather what is left of them, dare not put on any growth in case they attract grazing sheep. I know there are other crops to plant before winter is out, however, there are plenty of brassicas and broad beans coming and there is only so much space. For the bees the wallflower, rosemary, and salvia are flowering.

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Not an easy time for the bees

The beehive is struggling and I fear a grim outcome. Having missed our window of preparations to ‘winter the bees’ the colony has shrunk dramatically. We can only hope it is large enough to stay warm over winter and wait until spring to confirm our suspicions. Once things start to warm up there are punnets of  English and French lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula dentata), sea holly (Eryngium sp.) and salvia (Salvia sp.) to plant.

May/June Book List

Book title Normal People by Sally Rooney

Free time to read has been a rare beastie and often lost to much-needed sleep. New reads were via e-books. The most notable book was “Normal People” by Sally Rooney. I could not put it down, I felt the characters to be whole and their relationship engrossing. I am a sucker for succinct dialogue and this story delivers.

Final Word

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.

EB White

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vale Thad (Thadeus)
9 Sept 2018 – 18 June 2020

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February

February is all about extremes for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. We started the month surrounded by drought-affected paddocks and an empty dam. We have finished the month with green fields and a half-filled dam, which is a really very good outcome!

We were lucky to receive rain in the last month, yet to be confirmed as ‘drought-breaking’ but enough to soak deep into the ground, our minds and hearts. The land is responding, plenty of new shoots everywhere, millions of seeds have sprouted and we are better for it. Sadly some folk did not receive rain, or the rain-washed their drought barren topsoil onto neighbouring properties. It is a heart-wrenching sight.

When we first purchased our place we were pre-occupied with the lack of trees and how to drought-proof our land.  Then we learned the greatest carbon sink is grassland and one of the best drought mitigation tactics is to maintain groundcover, preferably deep-rooted perennials. Good groundcover protects the soil from the baking sun, supporting soil biology and structure, and improves soil infiltration which reduces runoff. Whilst we started our regenerative agriculture journey as the drought started, the fact we started means we stand a better chance of bouncing back strongly when the rains come.

Our first signal of having made a difference is how our runoff dam did not fill. At first, we felt really down as those around us had full dams. However, the benefit of the water soaking into the paddocks, where it is needed to grow grass to feed the sheep far outweighed the sight of a reservoir of water exposed to evaporation.  The drought still bit us, we lost trees and more groundcover than we would have liked but our paddocks have grass growing and for that, we are grateful for the rain we received.

The house build has hit a standstill due to a lack of human resources and time. We have formally accepted we have a ‘bit too much’ going on at the moment. Time to contract out the non-house projects such as fencing and landscaping. Owner building is a constant and complex tussle between a need hierarchy of off-farm income to fund the house build, down-time to creatively solve problems, non-house focussed projects to inspire and bring balance (and keep us from becoming socially dull), and starting a farm-based enterprise to create the life we want. Of course, another solution is to reduce the number of things we want to achieve…leave that one with us.

The kitchen garden continues to teach. The rain we received encouraged the rosemary to burst into flower, giving deep relief and a lightbulb moment all at once. It has not flowered since a severe pruning (read slashing) back in February 2019.  Turns out it was actually lack of water that kept the plants from flowering. In a bid to save water, the irrigation to the vegetable garden had been turned off and only key plants were being hand watered. The rain was enough to convince it to flower and the bees are happy and should survive the winter out here. Happy bees = happy humans.

We are currently harvesting asparagus (the spears seem to triple in size overnight), spinach, chives, spring onions, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, bay, mint, and the first cherry tomatoes. An alternative harvest list according to the sheep would include corn, tomatoes, capsicums and beans. It is tricky to tell if the corn is ready given the sheep enjoyed the silks, the silks dying back is a signal of when to harvest. We continue to wait on the tomatoes to ripen (such beautiful big GREEN fruit), the cucumbers and the kale. Jobs to do: plant carrots, plant additional brassicas (the seeds did not sprout so it’s off to the nursery for seedlings). The wicking beds are still standing idle due to intense sheep interest and insufficient protection – we do learn eventually.

February was a milestone month for our garlic growing business. We had our first market stall at our town’s agricultural show. We enjoyed it all and it was really fabulous to meet customers existing and new. We had wonderful support from friends who can take stunning photographs, who know how to retail and who kindly purchased from us. This level of engagement validates our belief in locally grown, human-scale food production as a way to ensure high quality and nutrient-packed produce. Sadly the pics don’t show co-captain, who managed to avoid every attempt at a record of his amazing efforts. It could not have happened without him.

February book list

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There has not been much time for reading this month so pickings are slim. Not shown are the sheep practice notes on how to identify the plethora of parasites that activate when we receive rain, and how to manage grazing and feeding to ensure animal safety as the new grass shoots. Oh, you read it correctly, new grass can make sheep very sick. Rain has a deep impact out in the country and for those living a farming life. Far greater than we could ever have comprehended. It is life.

Last word

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rain endearing itself

 

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October

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.

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one of our gals in action at the borage

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.

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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.

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PSB and asparagus

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…

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oh the anticipation!

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.

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last year 8, this year 40 apples set

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…

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green garlic and scapes

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.

October book list

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Eerrr…yep it’s called panic revision when you have 3 days notice your bees are coming home for good.

Last word

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it…boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Goethe

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photo bombing sheep

 

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September

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.

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musings with tea

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…

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looks deceptively simple for the impact it delivers

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.

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.

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. 

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

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.

Last word

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.

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stress release
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25 years of marriage summed up in a simple breakfast

 

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August

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.

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!

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how tough are broad beans – love them!

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.

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2 true leaves = potting up time

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!

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rock picking

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.

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.

Book List August

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rather garden focussed this month

Last word

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. 

S McNutt

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stay here with me…
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