June (not sure where May went)

May and June were busy months for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. Farm work dominated as we built (yet more) wicking beds and planted the garlic crop, conducted shearing, and managed livestock. Big or protracted events and projects demand so much of us, in the lead up, then the event itself, and then any fallout. Here we spend so much of our time feeling like we are flying by the seat of our pants, learning on the run, (of which there is so much) and getting things done in time for…. I can’t pick just one reason. Properly thrilling. I understand now you need healthy adrenal glands to cope with this farming lark. Yes, there are days of bucolic serenity. There are also days, surprisingly more than you think, demanding high energy and persistence. I actually signed up for this, happily unconsciously incompetent. We are now firmly on the consciously incompetent step of The Hierarchy of Competence. I guess that is progress.

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and breath in for 3, hold for 3 and out for 3…

I do love a country walk. In league with my neighbour we walk, at pace, for an hour or so each day. We don’t manage every day, who am I kidding! We walk past resting paddocks, paddocks with new lambs sprouting overnight, through tunnels under railway lines, past stock still rock wallabies (today we even saw a joey peeping out of the pouch) and tucked away cottages. There is plenty to see, little need to chat, and 2 puffing billies who simultaneously wheeze with relief when we reach the top of each rise, minor or major.

photos by Em Callaghan @Emcallaghan1

It is early morning, still dark as I push open the bright red door to the shearing shed. I can hear the sheep moving about, shuffling and clip-clopping on the wooden slatted floor, huddling to face the intruder. Except for the pet posse of 4, who instantly know my voice and hurry to me, ever hopeful I will save them from this whole flock humiliation they are enduring. With cooing noises and a gentle voice, I impart the hard news they have to ‘bear with’ that little bit longer, the shearer will be here soon. As I stand in the pens surrounded by the flock, I feel a deep sense of acceptance. The smell of penned sheep, the snorting sounds as they take turns to muscle through the crowd to check me out. I have their trust. Today it is shearing. My heart hurts, for in a month I will break this trust irrevocably as I lead them onto the truck to take them to market. This will be my first time to market, I am an utter newbie emotionally and by experience. I’m reassured seasoned farmers, good farmers that invest much effort and care into their animals, suffer too.  What is the best path to take here? Take comfort in that they have lived good lives (very good going by their condition in these hard times) or stand here and own the act of betrayal.

I realise I have to do both.

A ute pulls up outside.

Onwards. The shearer has arrived and there are kettles and motors to start, wool packs to set out and sheep to pen up.

House build remains at a standstill as our energies are consumed by the farm. This was always going to happen, wasn’t it? You start to build your dream home, then it morphs into your dream life. We could just stick to building and completing the house and then move onto creating the gardens and then the farm enterprise. Some folk follow this trajectory. I guess I had a fear we would end up looking like a square box in the middle of a grassy paddock, utterly out of context. So the garden, especially the kitchen garden, was always a concurrent project with the house build. I guess the farm enterprise was the unforeseen part, the desire to work our land, rejuvenate paddocks with livestock and then manage the livestock. And now here we are, living our dream life with a partially built dream house. What an unexpected turn of events. Don’t say I did not warn you!

pics by Em Callaghan @Emcallaghan1

Garlic crop is finally finished. This year’s new varieties and growing processes definitely took longer to bed in – but in nonetheless. The wicking beds will prove to be bigger than us and our garlic crop. As I worked them it dawned on me their value in enabling those with restricted mobility to realise a produce growing enterprise. Especially for those who are looking at losing their rural livelihoods and lifestyles. It is not the same as farming land, more like soil science, without a tractor.

The kitchen garden is full of fabulous green stuff. It is producing spinach/silverbeet, rocket, coriander, lettuce, lemon thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage (barely), brussel sprouts, kale, and broccoli. The broad beans, peas, cabbages, and cauliflower continue to grow well, responding to the cooler weather. The carrots, or rather what is left of them, dare not put on any growth in case they attract grazing sheep. I know there are other crops to plant before winter is out, however, there are plenty of brassicas and broad beans coming and there is only so much space. For the bees the wallflower, rosemary, and salvia are flowering.

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Not an easy time for the bees

The beehive is struggling and I fear a grim outcome. Having missed our window of preparations to ‘winter the bees’ the colony has shrunk dramatically. We can only hope it is large enough to stay warm over winter and wait until spring to confirm our suspicions. Once things start to warm up there are punnets of  English and French lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula dentata), sea holly (Eryngium sp.) and salvia (Salvia sp.) to plant.

May/June Book List

Book title Normal People by Sally Rooney

Free time to read has been a rare beastie and often lost to much-needed sleep. New reads were via e-books. The most notable book was “Normal People” by Sally Rooney. I could not put it down, I felt the characters to be whole and their relationship engrossing. I am a sucker for succinct dialogue and this story delivers.

Final Word

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.

EB White

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vale Thad (Thadeus)
9 Sept 2018 – 18 June 2020

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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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thanks for reading!

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!

March

During March, the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor enjoyed the last few golden days of summer, and revelled in the cool change and rain. This month of season shifting is full of hope and energy.  With the reveal of autumn, the leaf colour change, mushrooms in the paddocks and the orb spiders with their expansive webs, there is plenty of preparation. Garlic crop, kitchen garden, paddock tree plantings, and house build all dominate. The folk and tractor did run new fencing lines, worked the garlic paddock and lifted loads of wood, whilst the dog, well, she took to snoozing and catching happy rays on her bed, her plans well executed.

When we started our owner-builder adventure we thought we had thoroughly investigated and assessed all things building, finance and personal, making sure we had the means to achieve this big project.  How do you prepare when you have no previous experience of this scale of project?  Perhaps if you truly knew what was involved you may not start? There have been many amazing things achieved by amateurs in various fields of endeavour.  They say fortune favours the brave (and, I add, the persistent), but note they don’t say the best financial managers, or the best at quantifying, or the smartest.  It would seem whenever you embark on a big adventure you can not fully comprehend the whole project, all you can do is be brave, start and persist.

I have no regrets about starting this house build (and garden build and farm enterprise start-up).  Apart from new skills, I have learned a little more patience, perseverance and to focus on what is in front of me, not the future. I definitely have moments of feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, wondering if the house build will ever end. Yet more often there are moments of inordinate excitement at the slightest achievement.

With the kitchen finished we are itching to progress the earthworks for the final house module, courtyard and western deck.  Be prepared for way too much information on concrete mix (aka mud) than is socially acceptable.  I also need to source a very very good hand cream.  We enjoy this type of work, especially in winter, as we get a bit of a routine going and brickwork is so much more rewarding than plasterboard work, for us anyway!

The vegetable garden is a microcosm of wonder and angst at the moment.  It is with joy (see inordinate excitement at small achievements above) that I can show a pic of home grown, fully formed, EDIBLE, cucumbers. We grew 10 fruit of 2 plants so there is a pile there to learn about maximising harvest volumes etc.  But I’ve seen it’s now possible and that is a good space to find myself.

Frustratingly, the tomatoes are fast running out of time to ripen.  I’m harvesting about 4kg per week but, as you can see, there is a stunning cascade of perfect green fruit, soon to be hit by pests or frost. At any whiff of a frost we will hoik out the plants and hang them upside down in the shed to encourage the late developers.  We could source locally grown tomatoes to meet the 20kg min target but that is not why we grow vegetables.

We grow vegetables for the taste and health benefits associated with fresh organic produce; for the mental and spiritual benefit of a connection to the earth, the seasons and life; the constant challenge to improve yields, and survival rates; and to change the world view from blindly accepting industrialised mass consumerism.  To grow some part of your food chain yourself is so empowering that I am beginning to think the TV show, Gardening Australia, is actually subliminally promoting a fantastically subversive paradigm rather than a helpful national gardening programme.

Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes asparagus (I so need help with this), kale, chives, spring onions, rhubarb, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage.  Plantings I’d like to progress are broadbeans and peas.  The broccoli and brussel sprouts are planted and busy growing, and being eaten by something largish that is not human.

The garlic paddock bed preparation continues as we barrel towards Easter.  I plant our early season crop (Turban group) at April and the late season crop (Standard Purple Stripe group) a month later in May. This is just the time construct that suits us.  The ideal time to plant garlic is when the seed (clove) has a shoot that is 2/3rds of the way up the clove.  You can only know this from cutting a clove open, comforted by the fact you can eat it later, so nothing is wasted.  From my experience waiting until the shoot is bulging out the top won’t produce the best bulbs, but still useable.  For the seed shown here, some are ready to go now, yet others have a week or 2 before they are ready for planting.  I just love how this plant accommodates our circumstances, regions and climates.

We have also been working the beds to improve the soil.  Last season the crop suffered in size due to a lack of water and nutrients.  Thankfully they cured very well, so this part of the production process is solved, for now (yes, climate change is real).  In accordance with our regenerative grazing practice, we moved the sheep onto their next paddock so we could work the beds.  This involves adding plenty more manure (sheep and chicken), household compost, lime, and microbial mixtures (EM1 Bokashi).  We then dig it all in and test the soil pH, looking for a result in the range between 6.5 and 7.  This creates a neutral environment required to encourage nutrient takeup, improve water holding capacity and encourage soil fauna and microbial activity.

Two standout events attended this month were the book launch of “A Tree in the House” by Annabelle Hickson and a Creatives Retreat at Mt Henry Homestead, Binda, NSW.

Instagram has been a wonderful way for me to connect to like-minded folk, ask questions, be educated and find support.  It reduces feelings of isolation (or negative mind babble) and is a source of inspiration.  Walking into this book launch was like walking into a party with all the confidence of knowing everyone in the room, and liking them.

The retreat at Binda was along the same lines, despite only knowing 1 person there well enough to call a friend.  I now have 12 new friends, remarkable, creative, inspiring women who have gifted me so much.  I stood in the same spots as they did, only they captured much more than I ever could.  I am in awe of them, they are true creatives.  And boy did we eat well!

The honeycomb picture below represents a quiet moment.  I was surrounded by the sound of new female voices, a joyous cacophony of delight, cries of recognition, conversation and lots of laughter.  All jammed into a country kitchen and magnified fantastically.  Suddenly everyone, as if by some telepathic agreement, left the kitchen and I was struck by the quietness left behind, my natural habitat.  At this moment I did see late afternoon sun bathing the kitchen table, warming the honeycomb and oregano and filling the room with the scents of late summer.  I felt reassured and calm in this unfamiliar place.

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the scents and colour of late summer

 

Book list March

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Inspiration and food, the novels just did not cut it this month

Inspiration to work with flowers, ravage roadsides and friends gardens in the name of creative license via “A Tree in the House” and the beautifully told story of a family and wonderful Italian food that speaks only love in “Tortellini at Midnight”. With all the socialising and farm work novels barely got a look in let alone stayed with me.  Again recommendations from 2 female TV folk, who are clearly not my book type.

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential

Sir Winston Churchill

A project is a statement of faith in the possibilities of our own growth

The School of Life

 

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I could lose hours just staring

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