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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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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April

Here at our place, April only hinted at autumn. ANZAC day is the “You won’t look like a wimp if you put a fire on now” day. But this year you would have received some sideways looks because the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry. If there is no rain, the temperatures are still above 25°C, no frosts and soil temperatures and moisture are more like those associated with summer – do we still call it autumn?

For me, a positive has meant the extra sunshine and warmth continue to keep us in tomatoes. I certainly don’t broadcast my positive read of this situation – it shows a complete lack of regard for the seasoned farmers whose livelihoods depend on key weather events. So I just keep preserving the tomatoes…

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Myth buster! Tomatoes do not need to stay on the vine to ripen. Pick with a blush on the shoulders and they will ripen within a few days. It means you are not battling pesky critters to get the perfect fruit.

My focus this April has been planting out the garlic patch. I have planted 4 varieties so far; Early Australian Purple, Monaro Purple, Italian Red and Flinders Island Red. In May I will plant another variety called Dunganski.

5 days after planting and the first shoots started to appear in the Early Australian Purple beds. As the month has progressed all the beds have started to shoot – highlighting just how tough and forgiving this wonderful plant is out here.

I have been having fun sheep training my small flock of 50 to come to me: rather than me having to chase them all over the paddock in long grass on foot, or train a dog or ride a motorbike. Its nothing new by any means but I am getting some funny looks from fellow sheep graziers when I mention it to them. I’m using a ‘Ship’s Bell’ and luring them with bales of lucerne. It’s a giggle when the boys come piling towards you, totally driven by anticipation, and how fast they slam on the brakes realising “crap it comes with that lady!”

With our focus on the garlic patch and the sheep, the house build has slowed right down. Despite this, the marvels of engineering are harnessed and on display with the deployment of the mini solar system to run the bore pump – automatically. That is to say, we have water pumping automatically into our storage tanks. Did I say automatically? If it were not for the high quality of our water, you would think we were living with city conveniences!

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Water on tap – automatically.

April Book List

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One last thing…

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes

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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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