April

April has been an intense month for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. Thankfully none of it to do with the Covid-19 pandemic. So I guess it is all very relative. If it was not for this pic of a batch of Easter buns I’d have forgotten it happened.

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yep, that was Easter

It has been a struggle to find the peace of mind to sit and write about our adventures this month. Initial drafts sounded like a litany of unexpected events out of our control. The 2 folk, the dog and the tractor have been at full throttle. It got me thinking about how our lives operate at a certain frequency, like a steady heartbeat, and then out of no-where (or quite deliberately), we experience times of extreme oscillations that seem to tip us into the realms of a racing heart and breathlessness. The Stoics suggested our stress at such times is due to our refusal to imagine the worst and prepare ourselves mentally with strategies of acceptance (note they are not advocating risk mitigation strategies). I concede we prefer to spend our down time saying “cheers!” rather than “if the bank forecloses who needs a finished house”. So daily operations continue to be conducted at a steady jog, whilst juggling raw eggs blind. And then there was April. And suddenly we have run a marathon at a sprint. Yet the Stoics walked everywhere, calmly.

Nothing happened on the house. The lack of development is a hard reality to accept, especially given how knackered we feel at the moment. But the house represents only one aspect of this new life we are creating. April is the start of the garlic planting season. This year the fledgling garlic enterprise dominates our energies and attention. We persist with building wicking beds, understanding and correcting the soil, planting and planning a perpetual growing programme across multiple beds that represents a whole new stream to the business. Not so long ago we only planned for a single harvest of garlic bulbs to cure, now we plan to grow multiple garlic products across year round harvesting. Seriously, when did we cross the marathon starting line…what happened to feeling calm? What was that about acceptance…?

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I prefer to walk than sprint, you see more

We continue to learn what our priorities are in these uncharted times.  Our priorities have shifted seismically since we started building our house. This year has really brought home our order is humans, animals, plants then house and material possessions. And yet it was the dream of an owner build that started us on this rural adventure.  It would seem when you start out on an adventure you have to accept you can only see a few steps in front of you, otherwise it would not be an adventure. Otherwise you swap panic for calm.

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No1 Woolly

Our beloved Ginger dog is fast asleep in front of the TV on her pile of mats (a girl needs choice) as we start to prepare for bed. Suddenly she bolts upright, retches to no effect, and then starts snapping furiously, bringing uncontrollable waves of frothing foam from her mouth. Then the convulsions start, violent, whole of body rigors, tense and all-consuming. Utterly out of our depth and shaking with shock at the sight unfolding before us, we grab her and work her body, rubbing and yelling at her to come back to us. The seizure is over in a matter of moments and Ginger comes round to find her two humans in her face. She is disoriented so we just keep talking and stroking her sweet face, desperately trying to restore calm.  She comes good, but there is no solace in sleep for us then or now. We work through our limited options with the vets and the specialists. We are now sprinting on snatches of sleep because we are choosing to enjoy any moments we have with her. It is an odd sort of calm.

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forever hopeful

The sheep are calmly browsing the rosemary border outside the vegetable patch. They wear a feigned nonchalance yet undeniably hopeful look. I’m pulling the corn and some of the tomato plants to make way for the broadbeans and peas.  We have plenty of perfectly shaped green tomatoes so I am inspired (my chosen response) to try making a Green Tomato Chutney. It works a treat. A silver lining for what can only be described as a properly crap season for us this year. The kale is thriving, but I suspect it just does that. Carrots, coriander, parsley, spinach, rocket, brussel sprouts, red cabbage, cauliflower, beetroot and broccolini are strong and healthy. There was even a handful of late season strawberries.  Jobs to do include planting of said peas and broadbeans and regular liquid foliar feeds and organic approved pest sprays on the brassicas.

Last word

We may be powerless to alter certain events, but we remain free to choose our attitude towards them.

excerpt from “Calm” https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/calm/

 

 

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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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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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September

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.

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musings with tea

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…

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looks deceptively simple for the impact it delivers

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.

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.

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. 

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

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.

Last word

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.

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stress release
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25 years of marriage summed up in a simple breakfast

 

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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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thanks for reading!

June

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).

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Early morning musings – with frost

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.

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Clearly some wood stacking lessons are in order

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.

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.

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”.

Last word

The point of doing nothing is to clean up our inner lives.

The School of Life,  “The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy”

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Whilst I stood and pondered the growth of this tree, Thadeus got busy.

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thanks for reading!

May

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.

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an early autumn morning, with garlic

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.

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“a passion for work”

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.

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a tower of brussel sprouts – this is over achieving

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.

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Photo by @allthebeautifulthingsblog I really admired this photo because this looks so civilised compared to our rhubarb monster.

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

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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.

Last word

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

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for some May was all about garlic

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thanks for reading!