July

July’s story for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor is a deliberate diversion. We spent the first half of July in deep sadness at saying goodbye to our much loved flock of merino wethers.  We need time to process the emotions. The knowledge, ‘The Boys’ were due for sale, has weighed heavily for months. I admit to an element of avoidance. We have so much going on in our lives that the sale of our sheep was peripheral to our focus, as awful things are when you are trying to avoid them. And in true form, they don’t disappear either. So now is not the time. Just know we have suffered a loss, grown a bit, and are now sufficiently experienced to wear Big Farmer pants.

One way we deal with loss is by getting active on something. Not that we need another project but rather we need a distraction and a creative outlet, to let our minds fill with different issues rather than a persistent loop of emotional angst.

So we started the build of our growhouse.  By the time we made the decision to build, we had a very short window to turn this around for this garlic season. For an off the shelf solution, extended delivery times, builder availability, associated costs, and suitability were major hurdles. Yet these hurdels created the perfect scenario requiring us to get creative. Thankfully many before us have and we found a solution online.

We chose to build it out of sustainably logged hardwood, heavily oiled, because we like the look of wood, it is lovely to work with, added much needed heft and weight to help with anchoring the structure against our high winds and overcame the issue of the metal overheating in our extreme summer temperatures. We have built aluminium polytunnels and watched with dismay as the wind buckled and ripped them to shreds. This growhouse will be clad with a polycarbonate corrugated sheet. Glass, whilst traditional, beautiful, and heavy, would have caused extreme temperatures inside during our summer. Anything over 35 degrees Celcius and garlic plants start to shut down. This cladding will reduce some of the UV and if not sufficient we can retrofit retractable shade cloth blinds. We have not resolved how to best seal the growhouse to enable temperature control. We get a handful of cold, grey days in winter but mostly the days are crisp and clear with bright sunshine. The sheeting may be enough to block cold winds and yet warm the space sufficiently to encourage growth. In summer the same winds should cool the place down. I’m not sure if it is possible to account for everything, sometimes you just have to push ahead, that whole adventure over plan thing.

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Sheep are good company

The housebuild is spluttering to life again, inspired by the growhouse build. If we were paying someone to build our house, a month of inactivity would be hard to bear. We realise we need such times to solve some of the larger design components of the build. There is a luxury in not having to make on the spot decisions from a limited array of options, yet no one likes living in a partially build house forever…so we ponder, dream, and discuss. Co-Captain typically has to translate to me how some ideas might actualise, but it is a slow form of doing. And then there are times like now, where we have drive, funds, good weather and certainty about what we want to achieve next.

The kitchen garden is producing a wonderful array of things green, although peas continue to elude me. Huge heads of broccoli, plenty of broccolini (tenderstem broccoli), spinach/silverbeet, rocket, coriander, lettuce, thyme, parsley, rosemary, brussel sprouts, kale, carrots and the odd snow pea (sigh). The cauliflower and cabbage now have heads forming which is my first time. I pulled the carrots. Despite the carnage inflicted by the persistent sheep grazing we harvested plenty. I am quite enamoured with the wee dinky tiny ones and have been snacking or using them as a garnish for days now. They are far too precious to chop.

Winter in the bee garden is typically slim pickings but currently flowering we have the wallflower, rocket, peas, salvia, hellebores and rosemary. The broccolini is just itching to burst into flower, but I’m being greedy and snapping them off. Whilst the jonquils are up they don’t seem a favourite for the bees. I was taught bees are not particularly attracted to strongly smelling flowers. Good for humans.

Booklist July

2 books deliberately purchased to bend my brain. I did learn something from Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, addressing the race relations in Britain. However, I’m Australian. I think there is a far more relevant and possibly harrowing story to tell of the impact of British colonialism, laws, and the ongoing mindset of white privilege and superiority in our country. The books are out there. I am looking. I will be sharing what I learn. If you have some suggestions please get in touch.

Final word

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a truly beautiful book

 

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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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March

Much has happened out in the world beyond the confines of the farm of the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.  Plenty has been written about the current Covid-19 affected life we all find ourselves navigating. From us to you, may this little sojourn either break the boredom of your day or go some way to reveal a life that continues on, virus or no. And above all, may it find you and yours well and healthy.

In the last month, we have truly come to appreciate our life where rural distances easily accommodate social distancing measures to the power of 10; the owner-builder / rural life perpetual task list keeps us occupied to the point where boredom is a long lost state; the kitchen garden continues as a space to plant independence and the sheep keep grazing. Yes, we have felt the impact of the lack of certain key household staples. Co-Captain did have a moment of TPP, toilet paper panic.  I on the other hand immediately launched into gleeful regaling of toilet paper stories and only stopped when I realised I was the only one giggling. Otherwise, we find our days continue pretty much as normal in this new world.  We consider ourselves to be extremely lucky.

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now, BREATHE, in for 3, hold for 3, and out for 3

So onwards, with persistence and fortitude, and a whole lot of inventiveness and humour. These times may be the catalyst for us to rediscover values more fundamental than consumerism, like kindness to shop staff who still show up to serve us. I for one hope folk re-discover the blessing that is locally grown or home grown fresh produce. Fresh produce is more nutrient-dense so it stands to reason we might all become that little bit healthier. That’s positive! Not sure I can say the same thing about home brewed liquor…how long before grape vines produce a crop?

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brassica bed before exclusion netting

The kitchen garden is currently producing corn, tomatoes, kale, spinach, rosemary, thyme, sage, bay, chives, tarragon, spring onions, cucumbers, chilies and capsicums (albeit dinky). The seedlings of carrot, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, beetroot and brussel sprouts are planted. All but the broccoli and parsley were home grown from seed.

Jobs to do include planting out seeds of parsnip and broadbeans, harvesting & pulling the tomatoes, corn and cucumber plants to make room for the new plantings, and finding organic ways to keep pests at bay. The focus is to get as much in the ground growing, so dense planting, and established for the next 2 months of autumn. I suspect my next post may well be titled Bug Tales from the Kitchen Garden. I have to thank Phil Dudman from https://www.growyourfood.com.au/ for reminding me leaves of plants such as broccoli, are edible too. Start picking from the bottom of the plant to create light and space for the quick growing crops like beetroot/bok choy.

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wicking views

It is the end of a long couple of days, filled with hard graft, lots of shoveling and nagging concerns of a looming deadline. I am watching with bated breath as Co-captain gingerly navigates the heavily loaded tractor around the piles of building supplies, fenced off tree lots and tranches of protruding rock. All at the same time. He is maneuvering the first of many wicking beds into position on the freshly leveled gravel pad. The new site for the longview adventure that is growing garlic. The new garlic paddock is going to look a whole lot different to the last one.

We have talked about this scenario for many months now, especially as the drought took hold. From an initial conversation starting with ‘I wonder if…’ we have spent many nights researching wicking beds, the various designs, costing up the materials, time and alternatives. Finally, we agreed this could be a solution to our situation that supports our approach to farming and our values. It has taken a long time to find myself standing here watching this key moment. Wryly I realise it will be a long time before I’ve finished watching this process unfold too. It’s a start and that in itself is a joyous and inspiring feeling. 2 down, another 20 odd to go.

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lonely but it took a month to read

Booklist March

Oh it does look lonely. Yes, you would think if I was to self isolate a pile of books would be on my survival list. Sadly most reading has been online guides on how to disinfect ‘hot zones’ in your house, keeping up with online news reports as our worlds are quickly impacted by a highly contagious virus and more telephone conversations than I would normally accommodate.

I managed one novel, and I’m conflicted. Entertaining, well written, and evocative. Clearly written of a time when women were regarded quite differently to now. I still suspect the writer’s views of women were not entirely favourable, either that or the weather drove them all to murder.

Last word

Inside the word “emergency” is “emerge”; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

 

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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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January

January, for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor and many Australians, was the complete antithesis of this picture. January has been filled with some rather tense and heart wrenching moments. Just 3 hours away from our place in one direction and 1.5 hours in another, the stunning bushland and surrounding towns and farms suffered horrific bushfires. Precious animals in their millions perished, human lives were lost and dream lifestyles rendered to ash.  

 

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not the worst for smog but shows how drought affected everyone is out here

For us, at it’s worst, we were smothered in a thick acrid smoke as the fires burned out of control and the winds swept the smog into our home and lungs. It was hard to breathe and visibility was reduced to tens of meters, heightening the sense of impending emergency. High temperatures and winds meant any spark from any activity could put entire communities at risk. So for the day’s marked as ‘Catastrophic’ all we could do was steadily work through fire plans, clearing yards, watering everything, practicing SOPs, agreeing to fight or flee, what to take or what to leave. Lock down.

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not calm

What happened on the East Coast of Australia was unprecedented but not unexpected – which only adds to the shock of what has occured. I think there is a whole generation of under 35s who have only now realised their political leaders are not to be trusted and will avoid accountability at all costs. I believe the magnitude of the fires is due to industrialised humans and our persistent misappropriation of resources resulting in global climate change.  Fuelled by political and individual inaction in the pursuit of self interest and gain. My answer is to leave such creatures to eat their own young. We will continue regenerating the land, and support like minded folk; work harder to reduce our consumption, be it resources or possessions; and foster the concept of being a steward, not an owner of this remarkable planet.

We have signs of hope all around us too at the moment. Walking the paddocks and tree lots we discover trees thought lost to us have continued to hang on, even grow. Others have flowered for the first time, which initially we thought was due to maturity but now we wonder if the excessive smoke triggered the event. Even on a hazed out morning their beauty shines bright.

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Kitchen garden pickings continue to be slim, for the humans anyway. Herbs continue to flourish but the rosemary is taking a hit as the house paddock sheep acquire a taste.The tomatoes, capcicums and corn are finally producing fruit, the herbs are powering along, the cucumbers are still pondering and the berries have outgrown their pots. Yet we have harvested barely a thing! The lesson this month is to start growing early by planting seeds undercover/inside where conditions are relatively stable. Then once the climate is right, strong, mature plants (or near as) are planted out to maximise the harvest season. This is not new, what took us so long (read 6 years)?

Seeds of 2 types of kale, broccoli, and brussel sprouts are potted up and have sprouted. The bees have not been forgotten with seeds of English and French lavender (Lavendula sp), Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi), Salvia (Salvia sp), Hellebore (Helleborus), Honesty (Nigella damascena), Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro) and Sea Holly (Eryngium planum) also potted up. To do planting carrot, spinach and late summer herbs. Plant out wicking beds.

Booklist January

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One thing about lock down is you have time on your hands to read. Last month I read the first in the trilogy by Rachel Cusk. Exceptionally good writing. Just can’t remember a thing about the books as I was not present. Standout book, and a remarkable young woman, is Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker. If you need to get your Instagram geek on she is your go to library.

Last word

David Attenborough, A Life on Our Planet (film)

“The way we humans live on earth is sending it into a decline… Human beings have overrun the world…Our planet is headed for disaster, we need to learn how to work with nature rather than against it”

 

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now breathe
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December

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:

 

 

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.

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November

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…

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it is only one but what a sense of hope

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.

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New growth on one of the dogwoods, hope after days of terrible dry winds

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.

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.

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

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Reassurance, inspiration, food and how to sort ANYTHING out.

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.

Last word

From Charlie Mackesy’s book – one of many pages that resonate.

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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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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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July

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.

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hooks with wreath on a newly discovered wall

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.

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all prunings, not quite to scale yet…

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.

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.

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good soil = good plants

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.

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some books on minimalism

Last word

I hope you find this as funny as I do.  Traditionally called the Warrior Pose in Yoga.

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how true is this!

 

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