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