Last month the blog was short – be prepared this month is even shorter. The 2 folk, the dog and the tractor have found themselves living a repetitive blur consisting of:
smoke haze nights
smoke haze days
sleeping, reading and tea
Extreme weather, all things garlic, food/sleeping/reading
Days of very early starts to beat extreme heat and dust-laden winds. Water, the most precious of commodities at the moment, is shared sparingly between humans, animals, bees, and plants. The smoked out mornings are deceptively reminiscent of lovely overcast cool starts, the watered plants seem to be thriving compared to the drought-affected dry brittle grass of the paddocks. If we knew rain was coming our minds would be reading this differently, more positively. The pics show how dry, dusty and unforgiving our landscape is at the moment.
We did Christmas, plenty of gatherings around food and good folk, all of us preoccupied with the drought and fires. Such events are vital, if only to get you out of your head and to ask how others are coping, hoping to learn something from those more experienced and resilient. Only this is unprecedented out here, we have no point of reference.
It is with a sense of pleasure that 2019 comes to a close. Plans to post a ‘decade in review’, a reflective and thoughtful conversation about the start of our adventure here will have to wait. May the next year bring you and yours all your heart desires, rudely good health, great prosperity and grand adventures.
It’s garlic harvest, the month before Christmas and the 2 folk the dog and the tractor are going to keep this short.
For those who have followed along for awhile it is quite apparent we have focused our planting on trees and a vegetable garden. Only last month did we start to plant flowers in response to our bees arriving on site. So it is with great fanfare that we announce the arrival of our first peony flower. Oh the pride…
To put this in context; 20 or so plants salvaged from a friend’s house, 5 years in pots, fully exposed to the elements, watered by hand, tendered with truly no idea what to do and finally we see a flower from one of the surviving/thriving 15 plants. With the weather we have been having this is nothing short of remarkable.
The 2 folk continue to fence and create new paddocks. The tractor is key to this as we use the post hole digger attachment to install the main gate and strainer posts. Apart from the cost of materials, it is mostly about physical effort and that is always made harder when the weather gets a spike of crazy heat. The 2 folk don’t like working in 35°C and even the dog is happy to stay lounging indoors.
Rant warning: The hot weather has been accompanied by some terrible dry winds and walls of dust. The conditions are causing hundreds of fires up and down this side of the country. Exposing the utter lack of policy and leadership by the government and the impact of years of slowing gutting a primarily volunteer based fire fighting system in rural Australia. It turns out the equipment used by the Californian’s in their fire fighting season is shared with Australia during our fire season….only now the season’s are over-lapping. I don’t care if you call it climate change or the 100 year event or climate evolution – that is evidence something is changing faster than our government’s twee little political brains can handle. Rant over.
The kitchen garden has entered the ‘spring famine’ period. All the brassica’s, broadbeans, parsley, and peas have been pulled out and the tomato seedlings are in place. After a final bumper crop of broadbeans and PSB fresh produce we are now harvesting includes chives, spring onions, perpetual spinach, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Great frittata ingredients. There is the odd cherry and strawberry but sadly the much anticipated blueberries were fried in the hot dry winds. Despite plenty of water it does not look like they will become edible. The homegrown capsicums were thriving – until about Day 2 in the vegetable patch. Something took them out and I am yet to work out what. The bush beans have flowers on them and the apples are still hanging on. A mixed bag that highlights the desperate need for us to build a more sheltered kitchen garden area, I’m thinking one with a wall around it…Tasks for the next month include planting the potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, basil, salad leaves and succession planting for the beans, capsicums and corn.
tomatoes in place
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November was all about the harvest of the early season Turban garlic. Harvest time is a mixed bag of excitement and trepidation. Excitement to see how the crop performed this year (the whole bulb growing underground thing, you know?). Nervous because what if it’s a massive failure because something went wrong and the whole crop is affected….there are plenty of options to choose from.
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Such is the life of any grower of fresh produce I suspect. This year, thankfully, the crop is looking much healthier than last year. The bulbs are larger, the plants seem more vigorous and their colour is vibrant. The lessons learned this year, keep me enthralled for the next attempt. As this is the 2nd year growing in this space, it is time to rotate the crop out to new ground. Another ball game again.
For now, there is good healthy crop curing in the shed. In a few weeks time I will harvest the mid season crop, the Creoles. No rest for the wicked, what fun!
Book list November
After years of purchasing multiple panettone this year we will make our own…AND purchase some! Thanks to Nadine Ingham’s beautiful book “Flour and Stone” filled with recipes from her bakery of the same name in Sydney. “Everything is Figureoutable” by the dynamo that is Marie Forleo is a powerful and practical call to arms, for yourself. But without doubt the stand out book in this list is that by Charles Mackesy, “The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse”. I came to this via his Instagram account, and it seems the English author has struck a chord with half the universe. Utterly touching, his drawings and thoughts on courage and kindness will stay with you.
From Charlie Mackesy’s book – one of many pages that resonate.
This month the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor got busy with the bees, building shelter, growing food and checking hives, oh and started the garlic harvest.
Our bees have landed. It is a warm spring evening, we are donning our protective clothing and laughing as our friend regals us with tales of unhappy bees. Disconcertingly he has a lot of stories. As the sun sets we close up the front door, heft the hive up onto the ute, and mentally apologise to the foraging girls left behind. It is dark by the time we get the girls to their new digs. Far windier, exposed and flower lacking than their townie paradise. Over the next few days we are vigilent, nervously checking they are accepting their new situation rather than swarming off in disgust/desperation. 3 weeks on and their impact is already evident in the apple orchard, nursery and vegetable patch. So far so good.
Self build reality check. How does a month, representing 8 days of potential house building, go by without a scintilla of progress.
Sometimes you just have to order stuff and cha cha.
Whilst work on the house is in a holding pattern, the kitchen garden continues to produce and naturally draw our attention. We are harvesting asparagus, PSB, parsley, chives, spring onions, broad beans, spinach, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Out of pure concern for the bees adjusting to their high wind low fodder environment here, the kale, calvero nero and brussel sprout plants were left to flower well past their human use by date. However, the home raised tomato seedlings are only days away from being planted….so the brassicas are now out and the PSB has been harvested and there is a fabulously HUGE gap just fallowing. The bees have the borage, apples, lavender, strawberries…
I have berry, berry good news (he, he, he). We have blueberries and strawberries just starting to ripen. I now know that blueberry season where I live is not according to those hothouse grown in another part of Australia. Sigh. Kinda kills the low food miles and seasonal eating goals. We are yet to ever suffer from too many berries so I potted up 13 raspberry and boysenberry plants, received as gifts. Until the bed design and prep work are done, in pots they will live, all going well.
The bees have worked their magic on the apple orchard. 40 teeny tiny apples have set on the one tree, so now I have to net and protect them from winged pests, all the while learning how to look after the babies. The pears continue to elude me. The few flowers I saw were snaffled by a certain Ms Woolly literally seconds after I photographed them, leaving me feeling rather deflated. Ms Woolly enjoys perusing the kitchen garden as my shadow, always eager, she has a snack snaffling technique of great prowess. The fact that she always looks so very helpful and hopeful means I can’t bring myself to shoo her off. This may change…
In September’s post, I said the garlic harvest was 6 weeks away, let me explain…I have had a shift in thinking to see green garlic as a vital component in a fresh seasonal eating diet, more so than cured garlic which is what we, as consumers, have been trained to expect by the supermarkets. Consequently, since mid-October, I have been harvesting green garlic and scapes. I know, I also said last month the Turbans did not scape before bulbing, well this year they decided to, which is why they are referred to as ‘weakly bolting’, depending on conditions they may choose to scape or not. Bless them, we are happy to take the scapes, leave a few of the prime plants to flower and produce bulbils for growing on to regenerate our ‘seed’ stock. The scapes are removed on emergence to maximise bulb size, easier said than done if you leave it 2 days between harvests – they grow fast. We will harvest this early season group when we are left with 5 GREEN leaves, say in approx 4 weeks.
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October book list
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it…boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
September for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor had everybody playing out in the paddocks. We had rain, snow, and sunshine so everything is popping a vibrant joyous green. All sorts of weather = all sorts of fun, farming fun anyway.
It is early morning and we are sitting with a big pot of tea between us around the kitchen table, silently pondering the day’s plan. As if by mutual agreement, the first cup of tea is drunk quietly, with an odd gentle musing that trails off into silence. The trick it seems is to ensure the plan is clear BEFORE the pot of tea runs out – otherwise, we need another pot of tea and the morning is half gone…
Fencing. There is a powerful sense of determination and focus in this one word. It seems to hang in the air over the pot of tea. We ponder the hours already spent preparing the run and the hours ahead of us in putting the line up. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is gently warming, and the air seems to be sparkling (probably from the snow we had 2 days previously). We work quickly, grateful all the hard work has already been done by the tractor. Many times we walk up and down the hill along the line. Out of breath at the top, it is so tempting to lie down on the freshly cut grass, inhale deeply and count clouds with the dog. We are learning to appreciate good picnic weather is actually good fencing weather. Next time we will bring the food too and have it all.
bulbing starts Turban
Best of Turbans 2019
In the garlic paddock the early season garlic (Turban group) is just starting bulbing. It’s another 6 weeks before harvest. This hardneck (weakly bolting) garlic will not produce scapes announcing the start of bulbing, so it’s been a test of the patience to wait and pull at the right time, although nothing goes to waste really. With the start of bulbing the fertigation regime changes and we hope for no more extreme weather events to confuse the plant that may lead to unusual growths (garlic or disease). It is also time to mark up the best performers. The plants seem to stand that bit taller as the ranks are reviewed, vying for the coveted gaudy orange ribbon reward. These plants form the backbone of the seed crop for the following season. All the attention is paying off, the plants look strong and vibrant, and it is always a good sign when you have more ‘best’ plants than ribbons to tie on.
PSB at last!
broad beans in flower
The kitchen garden is starting to produce asparagus, rhubarb, chives, spring onions, parsley and rosemary. The brussel sprouts, kale and calvero nero are done and going to flower. The celery cutting from a supermarket bunch has found its feet in the garden – this is an experiment. After years of wastage perhaps now we can cut some when we need it. The broad beans are in flower, flowers mean pods so this is good, as are the teeny tiny heads starting to appear on the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB). Standing there pondering next steps (read what to rip out to make room for spring plantings), I can hear the bees smothering the mass of flowers on the broccolini, kale and calvero nero. It makes me feel less guilty about the lack of rosemary flowers. Just wait, I whisper, the borage and apple are about to burst into bloom, until then, go play in the pear blossom.
bee cruising calvero nero flowers
pear tree flower
bee glued to the spring onion flower
Jobs to do include getting started on herb seed planting, beans, carrots, peas, cucumber, sweet corn and pumpkins, oh and new vegetable beds to carry all this. And then fencing.
Book List – September
working through it slowing
do seed packets count as reading?
List is stretching it, as there was really only one book this month, an airport purchase for a long flight, you know how travel makes you think bigger, more worldly. And then you come home and it doesn’t seem as relevant…leave it with me.
When The Never Ending To Do List just will not loosen it’s grip on your stomach/brain/heart this is one of those positive cut throughs that just seem to help you regain focus. And, just in case you missed it the first time…oh and should you feel inclined, google Arthur Ashe, what a story.
August for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor involved a lot of hard physical work, all of which were just mere baby steps towards a future end goal. It reminded me of that saying “look after the present and the future will look after itself” (attribution unknown). So we persevered, we progressed and we stayed present.
Proof of dog
the garlic patch in snow
it’s all so very dramatic
We got snow. That is one of the extreme weather events we are now being warned to expect in the years ahead, as a result of climate change. At 2 separate workshops this month it was universally accepted our local climate is changing and the issue is now how to grow food (for our animals and ourselves) or garden in this new paradigm. Is it a farmer/country thing to be so very pragmatic? The initial shock has not worn off. There seems to be a subtext of: work has to be done with no delay. Anger, frustration, and blame attribution have been swept aside, leave that to the city folk who are under the nose of the politicians. We have land, animals and our livelihoods to protect. The whole global thing is out of our control, focus on what you can change before it turns into a mental health issue…sadly the drought means that horse has bolted!
Despite the layer of snow, the kitchen garden is still producing wonderful amounts of parsley, rosemary, spring onions, brussel sprouts, kale and calvero nero. The purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) and the broad beans are growing, even the rhubarb is putting up leaves. The asparagus is starting to peek its head above the soil, it seems to have a lovely purple colour this year. The tomato seeds, planted on the 11th are now up. They started off in an enhanced soil raising mix in a tray on a heat mat. Tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants require a bottom source of heat to sprout. Now that the 2 true leaves are out, it is time to take them out of the seed tray and pot them up to grow on ready for planting in the vegetable patch in November. It is a mixed crop this year, heirloom beefsteaks such as Macedonian Pink, Gallipoli pink, Mortgage Lifter, and Rouge de Marmande, along with 2 x cherry tomato plants in response to a new found love of Ottolenghi’s baked rise with confit tomato and garlic in his new recipe book Simple pg 174. This year there are fewer (barely!) but higher yielding plants.
Tasks underway include planting the pollinator pear tree (Williams) which will be espaliered against a wall. So far it has been a case of rock picking rather than digging!
The tractor was put to hard work this month, then again any digging in our soils puts pressure on any machine and person. The bee garden has been started with the planting of a hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) hedge and the working of a garden bed space to take the french lavender (Lavandula dentata), russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), buddleia (Buddleia crispa), shrubby germander (Teucrium fruticans), poppy (Papaver paeoniflorum), blue globe thistle (Echinops ritro), salvia (Salvia azurea), scabious (Scabious atropurpurea) and blue sea holly (Eryngium planum) plants and seed sitting in the nursery for the last few years. All blues and silvers, colours the bees love, as do we. All are water and wind hardy plants typical of cool and warm temperate climates.
sticks of hornbeam now…
the ornamental pear has popped, the bees are happy
The house build continues with internal wall insulation and courtyard wall building. We use a hollow concrete block, re-enforce it with reo and then pour concrete down the cavity. This system is very efficient and requires the ability to use and read a level rather than any bricklaying skills. It also appeals to our love of the historical use of bricks to build massive public structures that still stand today.
Pet inspection: “But will it provide us with enough protection?”
Trench = wall = concrete
feet, footings and formwork
wall up, reo in, concrete due
Book List August
Sent to me by a friend in the UK, perfect timing. Clearly I am having attribution of quotes trouble this month. Always a fraught process, never any offense intended. May the sheep keep you in the present here just that wee bit longer.
The practice of staying present will heal you. Obsessing about how thh future will turn out creates anxiety. Replaying broken scenarios from the past causes anger or sadness. Stay here, in the moment.
June for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor has been a month of trying new approaches. After an intense May, a new ethos to rest and regenerate, along with timely health check-ups, left the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor feeling very…torpid.
And we are not comfortable….so we must be on the right track?
The other day I came across the term “fallow time” used to describe downtime for people and how it is needed to cultivate creativity. Just like the period of rest we usually associate with growing crops to rest and regenerate the land. I don’t think this idea is shockingly new, rather a timely reminder to build rest into the calendar AND to respect this time for the positive force it can be. As a self-confessed overly focused task list type person who aspires to a more creative life, this idea stopped me in my tracks. I can not describe how hard it is to not have a task list or to explain what I did with the last day/week/month. How terribly limiting it is to view time spent being creative as ineffective, financially unsound or morally questionable (being a very short hop to the Judeo-Christian judgments of laziness and idleness, a definite sin against the productive economy).
All this dovetails neatly with the concept of minimalism. By reducing the ‘to do’ list, and allowing time to sit and reflect has profound impacts on understanding what we value, what brings us joy and how to appreciate and connect to the present surroundings. To make the time to live more consciously redresses the “cult of activity” and busyness.
To answer the question, June was spent learning to change our approach to include more creativity and reflection and less execution – and it was HARD! Frustration at not enough hours in the day (to be idle and productive – go figure), fear of judgment by others for being lazy, panic at what would happen if something did not get done, and worry about how to describe the day all featured. Acceptance, kindness and generosity, to ourselves and others, emerged. Best of all? A sense of release from demanding self judgments.
It’s past the Winter Solstice and the fire has barely been used. Our woodpile is standing tall, yet in previous years we would be halfway through a tonne by now. It is a reflection of both the extended warm dry conditions and the wonderful way the solar passive house design comes into its own at this cold time of year. We are entering mid-winter carrying an average of 14-21°C inside when it is -1-16°C outside and half a tonne of wood.
The warmer and drier start to winter is sounding the alarm bells for both the garlic crop and pasture growth. Our nascent regenerative grazing practice is getting a hard start. No matter how intensely you improve the soils with organic fertiliser inputs, strip grazing and tree planting, none of this matters if there is not sufficient water to dissolve and feed the nutrients to the plants. Last year we did not recognise the impact of restricted water before it was too late and the garlic crop suffered (great flavour but reduced sized bulbs). This year, even actively working the crop to nurse it through these dry times, does not feel enough. Only when we harvest later this year will we learn if ignorance or experience is bliss…’cause at the moment all I feel is anxious.
Trench = wall = concrete
Pet inspection: “But will it provide us with enough protection?”
The house build continues with the courtyard wall begun. The 2 folk have been busy digging footing trenches to take re-enforced mesh cages in preparation for a concrete pour, signaling the start of the courtyard build. The dog has been busy reviewing, inspecting and making minor adjustments. Co-Captain has patiently discussed revisions of the original plans, and accepted the walls just have to be taller and the footings accordingly deeper (read a tonne of more work) to achieve the dream space of our imaginations. Only he did not know that was his dream at the time. There is only lots of concrete, reo and blocks ahead of us now.
Broccoli in flower
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Sulking broadbean seed
The kitchen garden is a mix of positives and negatives this month. The blueberry plants have flowers (flowers = fruit) and the purple sprouting broccoli, kale and calvero nero continue to thrive. The broadbean seeds are yet to sprout and the peas have been pulled out as they did not develop any pods and it is now too cold for them. Surprisingly, the parsley plants are still doing well despite the frosts. This has been the best year for the parsley to date. Perhaps the rosemary border is offering more protection from frosts than imagined. Unfortunately, the pruning in February has resulted in very few flowers on the rosemary and may explain the lack of bees in the garden and why the late peas did not thrive. Tip for next year.
Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes broccoli, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, rhubarb, spring onions, parsley, rosemary, and possibly the last of the sage. Tasks to do include propagating rosemary plants and continuing to harvest and use the rhubarb. Baking goal this month is a rhubarb and ricotta tart by Nadine Ingham in her book “Flour and Stone”.
The point of doing nothing is to clean up our inner lives.
The School of Life, “The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy”
May means garlic planting in the world of the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. A total blur of everything garlic. Sitting around the kitchen table, ensconced in piles of garlic bulbs and cloves, buckets of soaking cloves, and cloves all laid out in neat rows for planting. Every step of the process is absorbing, tactile and bathed in autumn light. Happy days.
It wasn’t always this way. Gut-wrenching experiences of opening precious beautiful bulbs only to find them affected by mold, or quietly surveying drought damage as you try to comprehend the impacts on self, farm and income. The harsh reality you hold in your hand is a good crop ruined and future crops threatened. Yet in your heart the angst does not stay long because you have learned a lesson, and actually feel eager to implement improvements next year. This is what growing garlic does for me, it gives me focus, teaches me constantly and inspires me to try new things and improve. And I get my hands dirty.
And then I read a quote by the poet and writer Mary Oliver, who put it all so beautifully:
I saw what skill was needed, and persistence — how one must bend one’s spine, like a hoop, over the page — the long labor. I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me that most joyful of circumstances — a passion for work.
Change out “page” to “soil” and “writing” to “growing” and there you have it.
The kitchen garden continues to produce and feed us. Brussel sprouts are forming, a personal best with this plant. The broccoli has been harvested but thankfully succession planting is an option up to September so I see another feast situation evolving here.
The tomatoes are done. We officially called it with the final kilos processed only last week (mid-May). It was a bumper mid-season crop that came on very late in the season. A total haul of 58 bottles of cooked sauce (excluding meals made with fresh sauce), 10 jars of chutney, several containers in the freezer and gifts of many kilos to anyone we came across. Not sure if I’d include this in the “passion for work” idea now. Over it!
Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, rhubarb, spring onions, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, mint, and sage. Tasks to do include planting succession plants of broccoli, drying the mint, harvesting and cooking the rhubarb. Frost may have nabbed the best stalks but rhubarb is not a mainstay in our house so a little will go a long way. Although, I have been regularly amazed at how much better home grown vegetables can be so perhaps we will become converts.
Minimalism is something we admire and like many folks, continue to aspire to achieve. Our owner build has been a staged process of downsizing from a 250sqm city house to a 100sqm rented cottage and then again into a 45sqm module. We have now built 150sqm.
As we build and revel in the new space we have noticed we are not that eager to fill it with stuff. So it was with grit and determination we loaded up the truck and trailer with boxes of old gear and prepared to meet our dated, younger selves. With things in storage for so long, it made many of the usual questions about need/love/’what if’, and the associated feelings of guilt, almost redundant. Time and being out of sight has put distance between the object and our feelings. A well documented tactic I can vouch for now.
So, the expected grind gave us a certain ‘lightness of being’ that comes from having let go of items and their cohort of emotions. Our tactic to work through the gear in the shed, away from the house, ensured we had plenty of space to create the piles of keep/donate/sell. Or for vermin things to escape. Or we could shut the door in the middle of all the chaos. We did not get through it all, some boxes made it straight to the storage area as we got tired and wanted out (I suspect emotional avoidance).
I struggled with hanging onto unwanted gifts out of guilt. I found an idea highlighted by Courtney Carver in her book Soulful Simplicity very helpful. The true nature of gifts is in the exchange, the attributes of generosity, kindness, and love are not in the actual item. So by gifting unwanted items, you effectively continue the flow of generosity, kindness and love. We all know our world could do with more of that.
Booklist & Podcasts May
May was a month of tasks, with lists suspiciously multiplying overnight, lengthening and never shortening resulting in the triage of WHOLE lists not just items on the list.
A Basket By The Door by Sophie Hansen, will shift your thinking about how to be supportive in the country manner and introduce you to Miranda, the cake (pg 185) that could feed a shearing crew and that has fed 2 households on a few occasions already.
Podcasts are coming into their own, a wonderful way to avoid TV. I like how it works as a curated radio service only for me, with no callers or adverts to interrupt the lovely conversations I get to eavesdrop. Favourites include Letters from a Hopeful Creative, David Tennant Does a Podcast with…, Cooking with an Italian accent, Chat 10 Looks 3 and The Food Podcast. My very favourite, Dispatch to a Friend, is awaiting new episodes, as the 2 friends tromp over the Scottish Highlands, baking beautiful cakes and ravaging fields of flora.
What is interesting about the guilt of letting go is that the guilt doesn’t usually come from letting go. It comes from holding on. When guilt is attached to holding on, the only remedy is to let go. I could continue to feel guilt about past mistakes, about my past debt, clutter, and busyness. Instead, I’ve let it go so I can live today with purpose and joy.
Courtney Carver; Soulful Simplicity: how living with less can lead to so much more; pg 74