February

This February the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor were decidedly busy on all things NOT tomato related.  For the first time in 6 years, our February was not dominated by the tomato harvest and preserving.

The kitchen garden is producing well at the moment.  We clearly have a tomato forest, despite the new trellis system, with plenty of green tomatoes just on the cusp of ripening.  In the last 2 days of February, I’ve collected 1kg of our expected harvest of 20kg.  A year ago I noted tomatoes do not need to ‘ripen on the vine’ to improve in flavour.  Ripening indoors certainly takes the pressure off worrying about any insect attack.  The kitchen garden supports a small flock of sparrows, geckos, and lizards who feed on the known bugs in the garden. I provide water and real estate in return.  The generosity does not extend to the rabbit who has found the kale, just how do you remove this pest? Hopefully, once Ginger the Airedale terrier is back on free-range duty the rabbit will move on.

It is with much joy I can include a picture of my first ever triumphant cucumber flower (with a sister flower hiding behind the leaf – that makes 2!) and our first Cox’s Orange Pippen apple.  All previous attempts to grow cucumbers failed due to pest attack, lack of water, and wind snapping stems.  This tiny, and I suspect, way too late to fruit, flower gives me hope for next season.  Over the failed attempts I have learned cucumbers take much more water than you think and need plenty of protection of their main trunk.  I adapted some old plastic pots which worked a treat.  As I have not got past this point previously I am sure there are more lessons in store!  For the apple, this was the only one of 8 to survive to picking, on one tree of 10 (other varieties).  I confirm this variety of apple tree is tough.  It has survived years of insufficient water, bad pruning, and sheep grazing. Takeaways for me, water every day, don’t let fruit set for the first 2 years to establish the plant, prune well and keep the sheep out. This apple represents deep patience and looks so good…and I’m too nervous to taste it.

This year I found the time to hedge the rosemary border before it set flower.  This sounds at odds with regular wisdom.  However, there were no flower buds evident and our autumn is sufficiently warm to ensure a good amount of new growth and flower before winter arrives. Rosemary is a major food source for bees here during late autumn and winter.  Last year I felt pretty sick having to hedge the border during its flowering time, so much so that I did it bit by bit to give the hard-working girls a chance.  It dragged on a bit, to be honest. I hope this approach will avoid such a palaver.

Fresh produce in the kitchen garden this month includes kale, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, basil, the last of the peas, tomatoes, and rosemary. Plantings to progress are broccoli, brussel sprouts and peas.

To distract us from the looming black hole of no tomatoes, we have put our energies into fencing new paddocks off for sheep, attending sheep farm tours and eating our way around local shows.

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Scones with jam and cream – what else?

We had a great day visiting 10 local sheep farmers in the area for the Gunning leg of the Flock Ewe Competition (a friend of mine burst out laughing when they head this – I’m yet to confirm if its deliberate, which I highly suspect, or country charm).  What hit home is how different folk farm differently and it’s been a god-awful year for most of them. We saw plenty of sheep, all in pretty good shape given the drought conditions, and plenty of sheds, some centuries old and others modern monoliths.

The garlic paddock is under preparation, with the sheep now camping in the area where the new beds will go. Where sheep camp is where the manure and urine are most concentrated.  Along with mountains of collected manure, organic inputs such as vegetable compost and microbial inputs are my key method for developing our soils into rich dark earth teeming with microfauna and flora.

Planting plan this year includes cultivating the soil to a min of 40cms; heavily fertilise with sheep manure; add soil improvers such as EM1 microbial solutions, and vegetable compost; mulch heavily but ‘fluffily’; and water consistently rather than wait on mother nature.

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The best and worst 2018 garlic crop

I thought I’d show a pic of the best and worst garlic from my crop this season. It is disheartening when you get bulbs like the one on the left, but to give garlic its due, this plant, despite the lack of water, attack by Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and insufficient nutrients, still managed to produce a bulb I can plant.  This is what they call a super clove.  Typically produced when a garlic plant goes into stress mode.  It makes the call to put all its energies into producing one clove rather than several tiny cloves.  If I plant this super clove out, in the right conditions, it will outperform a clove from an ordinary bulb.  So all is not lost – what a remarkable plant to grow.

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timber, scaffolding and in the background a wood working space – this is our living room

The owner-builder adventure continues with the delivery of the solid Blackwood timber we are using to surround our windows, door frames and the huge 4m shelf in the kitchen.  We have saved up for this for the last few months and to see it safely inside the house is a moment of excitement.  Does anyone else live with scaffolding and bundles of wood in their main living space?

Book List February

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knitting = audio books and podcasts

Audio book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I thoroughly recommend.

It was a real mixed bag this month.  On recommendation from ‘others’ I read the books written by Melanie Benjamin and I was left underwhelmed.  I enjoyed The Wife by Meg Wolitzer as the voice of the female protagonist is very believable and authentic (now there is a word for the times).  I’ve included Flour and Stone by Nadine Ingham (again) because for the first time ever I made choux pastry, as in profiteroles and eclairs. Oh yes, let me repeat, I can make profiteroles and eclairs, albeit funny shaped and sans cream.

I have (finally) discovered podcasts and the one that has caught my heart is Dispatch to a Friend by Annabelle Hickson and Gillian Bell. What I like about a podcast is that it is not like the radio where you have to suffer the comments by other listeners or topics on subjects from the far right or left of politics, or politicians for that matter! A key reason for why podcasts and audio books are now firmly in my life is that I have worked out I can knit whilst listening to them. How I revel in the double indulgence.

Last word

The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility – Paulo Coelho

 

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Paddock walk finds. The strength and fragility are so evident.  Can you see the lambswool in the nest?

 

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January

This January was full of milestones for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.  Another shearing day under our belt, progress in the house build and celebrating our first year of storytelling here on this blog.

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I’m listening.

Exactly a year ago, in the first post, I showed a picture of zinc coated kitchen cabinetry – bespoke in all the glory of the word.  Time is a benefit to the owner-builder, not in an economic sense, rather the ability to take time in deciding design and materials. With the chance to experiment and explore the more unorthodox solutions and get creative in the process you too could end up with bespoke cabinetry. Below are pictures of the kitchen today, along with the construction phases, finished with the originally designed wood cabinetry. There are quite a few marine notes to this landlocked build, only out here we joke about how we may have mislaid the water and the boat but have plenty of wind to sail a house.

I am amazed at how much warmth the natural wood has added to this central space. After many test pieces we settled on a native wood to avoid painting construction wood, the use of plastic wrapped cabinets, high maintenance marble or highly reflective glass.  Wood seemed to address these issues, was a medium we can work in with easy access.  The next step is to add some greenery and personal touches that make cooking, sitting, discussing and working in the space all the more pleasurable.

We have experienced the hot version of every season this month.  Summer started bang out of the gates with multiple 5 day runs above 35°C – blowing the average number of 5 days in summer out the window. Thankfully these vile runs of heat have been punctuated with much cooler misty moisture laden mornings and afternoon downpours (read: heightened garlic curing anxiety).  I note I only seem to photograph the rain days and not the high searing eye blinding heat days.  In context, I never thought I would view a day of 33°C as a ‘cool change’ but either my new found climate adaptability or a new level of insanity is finally at play.

We had our 2nd shearing day just after New Year.  Planning starts at least a month out in order to fit in with various crew commitments. Excluding death, fires and rain, the date set is the date you shear.  This time it was the first of the 40°C heat cycles for the month.  Even with a very early start, in an attempt to beat the heat, we were grateful this was a small flock.  Shearing at this time of year was a new experience and with the time spent ensuring water, shade and safe cartage for the days leading up to shearing day we don’t plan to repeat the timing.  It’s stressful on the human and woolly folk.

Shade from mature trees is what we crave at our exposed site during these extreme weather events. Trees provide both shade and airconditioning on hot days, something all animals need. We don’t have enough mature trees throughout the paddocks and around the house despite our planting efforts. Without sufficient shade, the extremely hot weather makes rotational grazing difficult to implement in our regenerative practice.  On a long list of limitations, we have yet to resolve having only 2 mature shade-giving trees on the property.  These 2 trees need to cover 3 months of potentially super hot weather and accommodate 4 months rest between use.  After grazing the first paddock, let’s say for a month, it is ideal to rest this paddock for 4 months to ensure sufficient regrowth of pasture.  After the first month, the sheep are moved to the next paddock with a tree and once this month is up, where can they go?  They can not go back to the first paddock, as it will risk over-grazing the plants.  Perhaps in a year with normal rainfall, the pasture may have regrown more quickly enabling us to reduce the rest period – but that is not our experience this year.  So we face opening up untouched land with very long grass and juvenile tree lots.  Read plenty of fencing work and taking the tractor out into the paddocks in hot dry conditions.  Something we always try and avoid to reduce the risk of starting a fire.  Machinery, dry grass, and an unseen granite rock are all you need to create havoc.  This requires another vehicle loaded with water shadowing the tractor. A tense day for all. One day, after much more experience and sound practice, our place will be a rare haven in times of heat stress.

The kitchen garden is ever evolving.  The perennial rhubarb and tarragon are well established, the chives, spring onions and parsley are looking good.  I have planted more peas and am trying cucumbers again.  The tomatoes are thriving.  This year I am trialing using a trellis system for the 2 varieties, San Marzano (Italian plum) and Rouge de Marmande (French beefsteak).  The idea, from “Backyard Bounty” (ABC Organic Gardener, ABC books, 2017), is to reduce time spent staking, tying and thinning the bushy plants.  I usually plant 20 homegrown seedlings in a highly fortified fenced off area in the vegetable patch. I do have to grow more than I need to compensate for humans, inquisitive sheep (fencing testers extraordinaire) and failing irrigation.  Ruthlessly any plants that don’t make it into the secure zone are given away.

Book List January

I mixed it up this month, with a long and engaging listen to “A Gentleman in Moscow” on Audible and some print books.  The audible book was over 17hrs of listening. I listened to it at night before bed, forcing me to sit still, like TV does, but with many more benefits.  It definitely extended the experience of the novel because I am confident I would have read/gobbled the book much faster, but not managed the Russian names anywhere near as beautifully.

2019 01 audible book, a gentleman in moscow by amor towles

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With all the hot weather I have really struggled to put myself near any heat source such as a BBQ, gas hob or oven.  My reading list reflects my attempts to produce satisfying raw vegetable dishes, with the book by Nadine Ingram vicariously feeding any baked goods cravings. In the Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk, I came across an interesting suggestion that we need to move from being ‘less bad consumers’ to ‘producers’ in order to change the world from mass consumerism and industrialised farming.  Putting utopian ideals aside, he suggests growing your own vegetables instead of purchasing organically grown vegetables, harvesting rainwater and cycling it on your land rather than buying a water saving device and so on.

Last word

Worrying pretty much all of the time isn’t a sign that something has gone wrong, merely that we’re properly alive.

School of Life, cards on resilience 2018

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The relief you feel when something that’s definitely foreign in your boot reveals itself to be benign

 

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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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Gallery

May


May has been a month all about preparation, travel, inspiration, and challenges.

I am keeping the language very short this month as I write whilst sitting on trains, planes, and automobiles. Instead, I have plenty of pics which I hope will convey our story. Oh and I’m in France and the UK and I don’t have pics to load yet.

This month I have been left basking in the glow of realising I’m surrounded by people who don’t want me to fail. After 25+ years of working in the corporate arena in which I NEVER felt this way, I’m left feeling a deep sense of support.

I travelled to Orange, in rural NSW, to attend the first My Open Kitchen Gathering.  A totally inspirational 2 days where I learned new skills and met some remarkable farmers and creatives trying to tell their story using social media.  Organised by the ‘hostess with the mostess’, Sophie Hansen, we listened, questioned, collaborated, ate and laughed on a range of topics, all designed to help us realise our aspirations.  The calibre of the speakers, panelists, and attendees was second to none.  Many of us are still coming down from the buzz.  I am re-affirmed in my commitment to source local crafts folk and producers.  I could make a list here of several folk I will now purchase products from, I mean I now know a Master Tea Blender – doesn’t that just blow your mind – that a young woman from rural NSW can achieve this international qualification and I can purchase my own customer blend of tea?

My key outcome was to realise an Instagram account.  My handle is @ longview_garlic.  If you want to see more pics from the weekend in Orange go to #myopenkitchengathering where way more talented folk have put up some stunning shots.

I mentioned to the official photographer Pip, from @photographybypip or http://www.photographybypip, that I had brought along some of my garlic to learn how to photograph it in the particular style that I liked.  I kid you not, I followed her around like a puppy, yapping away in awe and trying in vain to see what she saw.  In under 20 mins she secured a shot that I will treasure.  Post that nano moment with Pip I managed these shots:

Another skill to learn – but first, remember to actually take photos…

We did shearing day.

Shearing day is something I never thought I would experience, let alone be the one to organise and effect.  Clearly, you can’t own a flock of sheep, say you grow wool and not carry out this part of the process.  Having found myself in this situation, I note that to say ‘we are shearing’ is such a level of understatement only those who have done this truly grasp the situation.  I’m sure there are many professions with the same claim.

I’m now consciously incompetent at this wool game – but so very much in awe of the kind and generous folk who took the time to teach and work with me – they are so very unconsciously competent.  The skills they have are phenomenal and yet I never knew this until Shearing Day.  Humbled, grateful, lucky. Damn fine situation to find myself in.

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Up until last week tomatoes continued to feature in my veggie patch life. Especially now I have discovered a green tomato chutney recipe by Sally Wise. But I’m calling it now. I need the space in the patch for my winter vegetable crop of broccolini, broccoli, and kale. The other task was to prune the rosemary hedge around the patch to let more light into the space. With this plant, Tuscan Blue, it just does not seem to matter when you trim it – it its not flowering its growing so anytime works. Which is why its such a great plant.

It with excitement that we have progressed our wall lining idea.  We have invested in having a sample made up of the veneer wood panels we want to use to line the walls of our house. We have great respect for those who can install plasterboard proficiently – more so because we can’t. Furthermore, we are not fans of painting. So we think this will cover off on our inadequacies in DIY and add some warmth to the whole concrete floor, minimalist, big window look. We have gone for an Australian wood, Blackwood which does not seem to engender much love from the woodies in this world. I think they fear us being disappointed with its variancy in colour.

 

Book List May

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The list is looking a bit lean this month but thats because I’ve read some library books that needed to be returned before I could take a pic. Two in particular stayed with me this month. ‘First, we make the beast beautiful’ by Sarah Wilson and Kent Haruf’s book ‘Our Souls at Night’.  Sarah’s book is a first hand experience of how she manages anxiety, depression, thyroid disorders, all the while living a life I could not imagine having.  My good health is such a basic expectation that I would have to seriously reduce my expectations of it if I suffered any where near as much as Sarah. Kent Haruf’s book is simply a beautiful story on ageing and how human wants and needs are as vital at 70+ as they ever were.  His writing is like poetry and so very authentic.  And a word on Dark Emu because this has to be said, I did not learn this history about Indigenous Australians.  It’s vital reading for those of us who were taught they were nomadic and transitory – evidence from European explorers, pioneers and structures suggests otherwise.  Why we were taught what we taught – that’s a whole other set of cucumbers to pickle.

Last word…well I took a pic out of Sarah’s book as it so very much resonated with me and made me laugh at the same time.  May you have an anxious person in your life…

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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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Gallery

January

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Quietly crisping up

Its serenely quiet and the gate has started to shimmer in the heat of the day by the time I take this shot. Through the gate I see grass turning golden and as the land dries out we start to watch the horizon for tell tale smoke plumes – where is it, how far away, which way is it headed; and welcome rain clouds – how far away are they, which way is it headed, will we be lucky?

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Bespoke zinc doors – bless Kevin McCloud

Oooooh I am starting to see some design influence coming out in our build. To be honest we are totally rubbish at interior design, we build and create spaces, filling and decorating them is far from our fun zone. These doors represent weeks of thinking, discussion and learning a new craft. This is the fun part of building our own place, we can take the time to work things out and adapt ideas to our skill set. And for the first time I’m getting a glimpse of an end picture pieced together from years of scrounging ideas from magazines, tv shows and online pics; of a large kitchen with deep colours and blended materials where no one thing stands out and the light does not hurt your eyes pre morning coffee.

View from West paddock back to house build.
Summer morning

This is one of the 2 trees on our place when we purchased. We have since planted about 250 and could easily plant that number again. The sheep are fantasitcally undiscerning between native v exotic in their inquisitive tasting of the leaves. We are becoming masters of building tree guards and sadly only by trial and error. At this stage I’m grateful they have not resorted to climbing (a la Shaun the Sheep pyramid) to gain a leafy morsel.

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Longview garlic

You know when you start playing with something and its good, then an idea sprouts… and then you realise you could make it happen you just have to start. Beginning is all it takes.  I have no idea of the outcome, it will be imperfect as odds always are.    This is Longview Garlic. Not only did I grow it, its edible and I can grow more.  I’m a producer of garlic.  Now that was not in the original game plan.

Number 1 on the 100GoodThings list

Books.

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I don’t watch much TV

 

“Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view. It’s not activity that disturbs people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad”

Seneca, On the Tranquility of Mind, 12.5 Source: The Daily Stoic, 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

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