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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September

This September the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor got busy.

Spring energy is a powerful force and often I don’t quite feel ready for what it entails.  Blossom by the bucket load, baby animals gamboling, bees all around, seeds surging from beneath the earth, and weeds flourishing overnight.

I’m ordered into action according to season dictates.  So this is what it means to “live more in tune with the seasons” – getting your butt kicked into gear by a tsunami of nature.  This as my ‘To Do’ list is whipped out of my hand by a gust of wind…uh huh.

Seasonally here, spring decrees vegetable planting.  Over the last little while, we’ve had a wonderful sense of satisfaction from eating food we grow.  Successes with tomatoes, broad beans, corn, broccoli, kale, silverbeet/chard, potatoes, spring onions and rhubarb because they are tough.  Sadly brussel sprouts continue to elude me and the cucumbers were mauled by something.  I have no idea what happened to the asparagus. Broad beans grow really well but we lost the latest planting when discovered by the sheep (along with the kale and silverbeet).  I’m audaciously trying for another late planting as we really like them.  All of this is done on a 4 year rotational plan with most of the bed currently planted with a fumigant crop (of course garlic!) to treat the soil.  So space is at a premium and I’m effectively squeezing in plants, and testing the packet instructions.

I’ve started the tomatoes, basil, and beans under cover and others in situ (peas, spinach, lettuce, and other salad greens). It’s the in situ seedlings I am battling to protect from sheep, birds and hares (not bunnies, but small dog sized eating machines).  The books are full of how to manage snails, slugs, bunnies, possums etc so it never occurred to me I would not have these too.  It must be a gradual process as word gets out about a new restaurant in town and generational knowledge is laid down.  Oddly I found a lone asparagus spear, standing tall and untouched just yesterday.  I promptly snapped it off and ate it on the spot – grand!

Next, plant more trees.  This spring we have planted 8 Nyssa sylvatica (Black tupelo) along the inside edge of what was a dam, an advanced Parrotia persica (Persian witchhazel) and 2 fig trees into the orchard, so far. (no pics ’cause they look like sticks!) We have a way to go before we plant enough trees to change our landscape here.  We plant a mix of native and exotic.  Why? Native trees to support the co-evolved flora, fauna and soil biota. Exotic trees for their decomposing ability to build and replace soil lost to earlier farming practices. Regenerating our land requires multiple approaches and stages of progress.  Currently, it’s improving biodiversity above ground and in the soil. We do this by using sheep to graze and tramp down the monoculture of our paddock grass to encourage other grass species, forbs and shrubs to grow.  The sheep also fertilise the soil encouraging organisms and increasing carbon content.  All this and the tree planting help our land retain the little water we receive over a year (approx 620m – but not this year) making us (land, livestock AND humans) more drought and flood resilient.

Big lesson this year.  Let the plant do the work for you.  They are remarkable engines of growth so let them grow.  For years we purchased small tube stock, grew the plants in the nursery to see if we liked them and then re-potted each year.  So come planting time…well it takes a tractor and 2 folk rather than just a shovel. Call me slow off the mark but I’m finally down to my last 5 big trees to get out of pots and into the ground, then we are converting to a ‘buy tube stock – plant tube stock’ regime.

Book List September

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School of Life Bibliotherapy sessions rock! Revisiting ‘Slow’ and ongoing cooking inspiration from Rick and Hetty.

September 1 may mark the beginning of spring but it also marks the launch of a book I co-wrote with a friend from my local beekeeper’s club: Growing Beautiful Bee Gardens in the Southern Tablelands of NSW: a guide to plants that attract bees and thrive in our region.  Collaboration is such a positive creator of energy and support.  I’ve realised (see May’s entry) that even though I like to work alone, I thrive in collaborative environments.  Not something I ever thought I would say.  When you are surrounded by people who want you to succeed I suspect it’s easier to perform and give generously back.  Does it then follow that because collaboration is such a positive way to work it’s only to be expected it will produce something wonderful? My proof?  A useful little book of 50 diverse plants for folk to grow, to promote healthy bees and hives, suitable for townsfolk and country folk alike.  I’m still grinning in disbelief a whole month on.

Last word

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood

 

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I’ve finally done it – convinced the sheep to eat the rosemary…this could be a mistake.  Note how they stay in the shade to avoid the bees?

 

 

 

July

This July the 2 folk, dog and their tractor spent much of their time indoors.

Despite the odd day of dead quiet fog, our winter days are usually cold, clear blue skies with the nights turning a bone-chilling cold.  Hooray! Huge open fires just ’cause we can.

The stillness that creates the frosty night is riveting. If you happen to look up, the Milky Way seems so close you could dip your hand into its depths and extract one of its shiny stones to hold twinkling in your hand.  It’s all awe and humility at the SCALE of it all, just hanging there. (Roman ruins just don’t compare – see Junes’ blog).

Then the cold starts to seep in and the lovely deep moment is clocked, tagged with the comment, “wear a coat next time!” as you rush indoors.

I’m learning that out here, apart from dressing more appropriately, the dark has a different feel to it than in the city.  For me, it’s not so menacing.  In summer the night is a cool respite from the glaring sun, and in winter it’s a chance to notice a very deep quiet and have (oddly) rather clear night vision.

Now I take a moment.  To not feel the tyranny of the cold and the urgency coming from the warm house.  I enjoy the long walk back from the gate after seeing a friend off home, I take my time, look up, draw deep breaths and marvel at the universe and our very small, wee dot of a place within.

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Pic by Sky and Telescope

The discovery of a new tree is always exciting.  Let alone when you find trees alive and thriving presumed dead. We’ve always struggled with getting native trees to thrive at our place. Open grassy woodland is the proper term for our part of the world, open suggesting there were trees here once that created the structure for the space to exist. We have the ‘open’ part sorted – to the point of ‘exposed’.

To help with the rehabilitation of our land, we planted several red and yellow box (Eucalyptus polyanthemos and Eucalyptus melliodora respectively), on ridgelines and down low.  Several times.  We now have 4, where once there was 1, and to my utter surprise, we have another 4, where once there were none.  This last group was undeniably neglected by me as I was loathed to stomp through tall grass in the middle of summer looking for tiny seedlings to water.  Our only, and severely limited, claim to success is that we planted them in autumn 2014, watered them a few times and gave them some cover.  Then left them alone.  Having found these little beauties it’s all I can do to not start fussing over them.

Progress crawls millimetre by millimetre on the house.  An offhand comment of, “If we painted the walls maybe they won’t look so bad next to the wood paneling”, became my priority.  Sly work my friend.  Give me a task and I’m locked on and can’t let the beastie go until the task is delivered.  Have you ever seen Terrier dogs snap their heads to attention when some little fury thing flings past – yea it’s like that.  It used to be shoes once upon a time…

 

July Book List

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I learned quite a bit from the Stephen King book.  I’ve not read or watched his work before now and this book is personable, helpful, and irreverent.  Oh to have a scintilla of his skill.

You would have thought that with the weather forcing our focus indoors I might have managed a greater reading list this month.  Instead, I’ve been using the time to learn about taking photos, using Instagram and building websites for ‘longview garlic’.  My most creative and inspiring achievement was to translate an image I’ve had in my head for months now into my logo – which is so dead simple you might well ask, creative achievement of worth?  I love it and I did it all by myself #progressnotperfection

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It’s my logo!

Lots of photograph practice produced these pics which will get some use in the next few months, more so on my Instagram site, #longview_garlic.

 

Last word…

We all need warm happy rays at this time of year.

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As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Writings to Young Women from Laura Ingalls Wilder: On Wisdom and Virtues

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Gallery

May


May has been a month all about preparation, travel, inspiration, and challenges.

I am keeping the language very short this month as I write whilst sitting on trains, planes, and automobiles. Instead, I have plenty of pics which I hope will convey our story. Oh and I’m in France and the UK and I don’t have pics to load yet.

This month I have been left basking in the glow of realising I’m surrounded by people who don’t want me to fail. After 25+ years of working in the corporate arena in which I NEVER felt this way, I’m left feeling a deep sense of support.

I travelled to Orange, in rural NSW, to attend the first My Open Kitchen Gathering.  A totally inspirational 2 days where I learned new skills and met some remarkable farmers and creatives trying to tell their story using social media.  Organised by the ‘hostess with the mostess’, Sophie Hansen, we listened, questioned, collaborated, ate and laughed on a range of topics, all designed to help us realise our aspirations.  The calibre of the speakers, panelists, and attendees was second to none.  Many of us are still coming down from the buzz.  I am re-affirmed in my commitment to source local crafts folk and producers.  I could make a list here of several folk I will now purchase products from, I mean I now know a Master Tea Blender – doesn’t that just blow your mind – that a young woman from rural NSW can achieve this international qualification and I can purchase my own customer blend of tea?

My key outcome was to realise an Instagram account.  My handle is @ longview_garlic.  If you want to see more pics from the weekend in Orange go to #myopenkitchengathering where way more talented folk have put up some stunning shots.

I mentioned to the official photographer Pip, from @photographybypip or http://www.photographybypip, that I had brought along some of my garlic to learn how to photograph it in the particular style that I liked.  I kid you not, I followed her around like a puppy, yapping away in awe and trying in vain to see what she saw.  In under 20 mins she secured a shot that I will treasure.  Post that nano moment with Pip I managed these shots:

Another skill to learn – but first, remember to actually take photos…

We did shearing day.

Shearing day is something I never thought I would experience, let alone be the one to organise and effect.  Clearly, you can’t own a flock of sheep, say you grow wool and not carry out this part of the process.  Having found myself in this situation, I note that to say ‘we are shearing’ is such a level of understatement only those who have done this truly grasp the situation.  I’m sure there are many professions with the same claim.

I’m now consciously incompetent at this wool game – but so very much in awe of the kind and generous folk who took the time to teach and work with me – they are so very unconsciously competent.  The skills they have are phenomenal and yet I never knew this until Shearing Day.  Humbled, grateful, lucky. Damn fine situation to find myself in.

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Up until last week tomatoes continued to feature in my veggie patch life. Especially now I have discovered a green tomato chutney recipe by Sally Wise. But I’m calling it now. I need the space in the patch for my winter vegetable crop of broccolini, broccoli, and kale. The other task was to prune the rosemary hedge around the patch to let more light into the space. With this plant, Tuscan Blue, it just does not seem to matter when you trim it – it its not flowering its growing so anytime works. Which is why its such a great plant.

It with excitement that we have progressed our wall lining idea.  We have invested in having a sample made up of the veneer wood panels we want to use to line the walls of our house. We have great respect for those who can install plasterboard proficiently – more so because we can’t. Furthermore, we are not fans of painting. So we think this will cover off on our inadequacies in DIY and add some warmth to the whole concrete floor, minimalist, big window look. We have gone for an Australian wood, Blackwood which does not seem to engender much love from the woodies in this world. I think they fear us being disappointed with its variancy in colour.

 

Book List May

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The list is looking a bit lean this month but thats because I’ve read some library books that needed to be returned before I could take a pic. Two in particular stayed with me this month. ‘First, we make the beast beautiful’ by Sarah Wilson and Kent Haruf’s book ‘Our Souls at Night’.  Sarah’s book is a first hand experience of how she manages anxiety, depression, thyroid disorders, all the while living a life I could not imagine having.  My good health is such a basic expectation that I would have to seriously reduce my expectations of it if I suffered any where near as much as Sarah. Kent Haruf’s book is simply a beautiful story on ageing and how human wants and needs are as vital at 70+ as they ever were.  His writing is like poetry and so very authentic.  And a word on Dark Emu because this has to be said, I did not learn this history about Indigenous Australians.  It’s vital reading for those of us who were taught they were nomadic and transitory – evidence from European explorers, pioneers and structures suggests otherwise.  Why we were taught what we taught – that’s a whole other set of cucumbers to pickle.

Last word…well I took a pic out of Sarah’s book as it so very much resonated with me and made me laugh at the same time.  May you have an anxious person in your life…

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March

March is a month of change this year – which is a good thing.

In the last week I reached my goal of 30 bottles of tomato sauce.  The crop has peaked in flavour and size so I use the smaller tomatoes to make chutney.  This chutney is tangy with loads of herbs and spices.  It supports a cheese board admirably, but for me, I think it is unsurpassed as the flavour hit in a toasted tomato chutney and cheese sandwich.  Grand reward for hard work on a cold day.

Remember the garlic patch pic from last month?  It’s amazing the effect of a bit of rain, albeit a very small amount.

You definitely start to evolve an opinion on how much and what sort of rain you require.  I’m definitely a fan of the 2 days of steady drizzle, the sort that resembles the curtain of rain that seems to permanently delineate Durham County in the UK.  Rain days like that are gentle and regenerating.  Out here we tend to get the 5 minute dump and drench type rain.  With a metal roof it is deafening and we find ourselves riveted into silence. And then we find an excuse to race out and ‘rescue’ something just to be part of the chaos. One day we will have an outdoor undercover area to watch from, raise a glass of vino and be very adult about it all.

The garlic patch is underway.  We have created the first planting beds and added some Ag Lime as all the growing guides state ‘garlic loves lime’.  Broad anecdotal statements aside, our soil analysis results show we need to adjust our soil ph.  Tomato, Potato – same outcome (GhostBusters II movie). The 10m x 1m beds will take 1,500 cloves of 5 different varieties of garlic.  Planting is scheduled for 5 & 6 April – the first best planting period for root crops after the full moon.

March Book List

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I finally got my butt to the local library and enrolled then came home, jumped online and ordered a pile of books to read over Easter.  I actually think it is better than having a voucher to your favourite bookstore.  In those instances you are really careful about what you spend the windfall on – at the library absolutely no control required.  It was open slather.

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Sheep and dogs – a comedy everyday

 

Greater confidence begins with a ritual of telling oneself solemnly every morning, before heading out for the day, that one is a muttonhead, a cretin, a dumb-bell and an imbecile. One or two more acts of folly should, thereafter, not matter much at all. http://www.theschooloflife.com

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Gallery

January

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Quietly crisping up

Its serenely quiet and the gate has started to shimmer in the heat of the day by the time I take this shot. Through the gate I see grass turning golden and as the land dries out we start to watch the horizon for tell tale smoke plumes – where is it, how far away, which way is it headed; and welcome rain clouds – how far away are they, which way is it headed, will we be lucky?

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Bespoke zinc doors – bless Kevin McCloud

Oooooh I am starting to see some design influence coming out in our build. To be honest we are totally rubbish at interior design, we build and create spaces, filling and decorating them is far from our fun zone. These doors represent weeks of thinking, discussion and learning a new craft. This is the fun part of building our own place, we can take the time to work things out and adapt ideas to our skill set. And for the first time I’m getting a glimpse of an end picture pieced together from years of scrounging ideas from magazines, tv shows and online pics; of a large kitchen with deep colours and blended materials where no one thing stands out and the light does not hurt your eyes pre morning coffee.

View from West paddock back to house build.
Summer morning

This is one of the 2 trees on our place when we purchased. We have since planted about 250 and could easily plant that number again. The sheep are fantasitcally undiscerning between native v exotic in their inquisitive tasting of the leaves. We are becoming masters of building tree guards and sadly only by trial and error. At this stage I’m grateful they have not resorted to climbing (a la Shaun the Sheep pyramid) to gain a leafy morsel.

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Longview garlic

You know when you start playing with something and its good, then an idea sprouts… and then you realise you could make it happen you just have to start. Beginning is all it takes.  I have no idea of the outcome, it will be imperfect as odds always are.    This is Longview Garlic. Not only did I grow it, its edible and I can grow more.  I’m a producer of garlic.  Now that was not in the original game plan.

Number 1 on the 100GoodThings list

Books.

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I don’t watch much TV

 

“Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view. It’s not activity that disturbs people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad”

Seneca, On the Tranquility of Mind, 12.5 Source: The Daily Stoic, 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

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