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.
Proof of dog
the garlic patch in snow
it’s all so very dramatic
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!
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.
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!
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.
sticks of hornbeam now…
the ornamental pear has popped, the bees are happy
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.
Pet inspection: “But will it provide us with enough protection?”
Trench = wall = concrete
feet, footings and formwork
wall up, reo in, concrete due
Book List August
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.
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.
mushrooms = autumn
Ginger catching happy rays
pear leaves turning
still warm enough for rain
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.
another flower another baby
baby sitting en masse
so many, so green
1m high asparagus spear
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.
seed with shoot
mountains of gold
soil improving but a way to go yet
pH 6.5-7 is the goal
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.
at the book launch
in a friend’s garden
foraged hawthorn now adorning my ceiling
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.
entree evening 1
breakfast morning 2 pic by @tomollycarcoar
dinner setting pic by @wrenandwhippet
conversations had pic by @jody_potter
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.
Book list March
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