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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November

This November was all about starting the garlic harvest for 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.

Garlic harvest This year on the advice of older and wiser commercial garlic growers we delayed our harvest by 2 weeks.  It was a long wait, harder to take as we entered the last month of spring here, when rain is most likely to occur, and you try not to pull garlic in wet conditions.  We persevered and I think our garlic will store better.  It was a mixed result for the bulbs this year.  The drought conditions have resulted in smaller bulbs than previous years.

The learning curve has been very steep.  It’s quite a different ball game to grow garlic out in the paddock compared to in the veggie patch.  I imagine this is the case with any fresh produce.  This year we take away a long list of lessons covering every aspect of the growing cycle, from bed preparation through to hanging the garlic for curing.

All good produce relies on good soil.  Good soil actually takes time to create.  There are no fast fixes, spreads or sprays that will encourage organisms and biota to take up residence, work their magic and multiply in abundance if the conditions are not suitable. Don’t get me wrong, we have not finished throwing humus, compost or fertiliser at the garlic patch.  You can’t grow something in soil without it extracting something from the soil that will need replenishing.  Our lesson has been it’s never too early to start feeding the beds, with anything, preferably organic, you have to hand.  So no sooner have we harvested the garlic that we are now starting to prep the beds for next years crop.  This year I will apply more compost (our household bokashi and garden compost), more fertiliser in the form of biomungus, humic and mineral inputs and seaweed and fish emulsion products.  We have not invested in a wormery as we had a bokashi compost system in use, however this year I think for every compost application I will apply worm castings, in the hope we might encourage more soil biota.  Another trial will be spraying a molasses solution, a sugar hit for the soil.

One of the big leaps forward for domestic growers and consumers alike is the awakening to the joys of fresh garlic.  Given the breadth of this land, Australia is in a rather remarkable position of being able to enjoy fresh garlic all year round.  Until now we just did not know it, why?  For my 2 cents worth, because the supermarkets and the government funded overseas suppliers had us accepting cured garlic as the only option.  It stores and travels better – for a fresh food this is gold in commercial terms – just not for the consumer.

With the uptake in interest in fresh garlic, we found ourselves prepping the bulbs before harvest officially started.  Spring or Green garlic is a delicacy that has such a short window of availability it gets snapped up.  But as growers around the country start to plant a wider variety of garlics there will be more opportunities.

Fresh garlic has a colour and smell to it that is truly delectable.  Softer in flavour when raw it is so very versatile.  The whole bulb is used, there is no need to peel the cloves as the skin is still fleshy and has not turned papery, as it should do when cured correctly.

 

Book List November

This month I discovered Audible, a service that reads books to you, what luxury!  Although I will say I read faster than the person speaks, it is a fantastic way to immerse yourself into a book.  I listened to ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman, read by Cathleen McCarron.  The novel is set in Scotland, so to hear it read with a Scottish accent really put me in the novel.  Wonderful story, deeply insightful, laugh out loud funny and moments of tears and pain.  The central character, Eleanor Oliphant is so rich and complex, you fall in love with her and look at your friends with a bit more kindness.

Final word

You aside, no one is carefully keeping track of your idiocies.

School of Life, cards on Resilience 2018

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Run lambsy, run!

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September

This September the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor got busy.

Spring energy is a powerful force and often I don’t quite feel ready for what it entails.  Blossom by the bucket load, baby animals gamboling, bees all around, seeds surging from beneath the earth, and weeds flourishing overnight.

I’m ordered into action according to season dictates.  So this is what it means to “live more in tune with the seasons” – getting your butt kicked into gear by a tsunami of nature.  This as my ‘To Do’ list is whipped out of my hand by a gust of wind…uh huh.

Seasonally here, spring decrees vegetable planting.  Over the last little while, we’ve had a wonderful sense of satisfaction from eating food we grow.  Successes with tomatoes, broad beans, corn, broccoli, kale, silverbeet/chard, potatoes, spring onions and rhubarb because they are tough.  Sadly brussel sprouts continue to elude me and the cucumbers were mauled by something.  I have no idea what happened to the asparagus. Broad beans grow really well but we lost the latest planting when discovered by the sheep (along with the kale and silverbeet).  I’m audaciously trying for another late planting as we really like them.  All of this is done on a 4 year rotational plan with most of the bed currently planted with a fumigant crop (of course garlic!) to treat the soil.  So space is at a premium and I’m effectively squeezing in plants, and testing the packet instructions.

I’ve started the tomatoes, basil, and beans under cover and others in situ (peas, spinach, lettuce, and other salad greens). It’s the in situ seedlings I am battling to protect from sheep, birds and hares (not bunnies, but small dog sized eating machines).  The books are full of how to manage snails, slugs, bunnies, possums etc so it never occurred to me I would not have these too.  It must be a gradual process as word gets out about a new restaurant in town and generational knowledge is laid down.  Oddly I found a lone asparagus spear, standing tall and untouched just yesterday.  I promptly snapped it off and ate it on the spot – grand!

Next, plant more trees.  This spring we have planted 8 Nyssa sylvatica (Black tupelo) along the inside edge of what was a dam, an advanced Parrotia persica (Persian witchhazel) and 2 fig trees into the orchard, so far. (no pics ’cause they look like sticks!) We have a way to go before we plant enough trees to change our landscape here.  We plant a mix of native and exotic.  Why? Native trees to support the co-evolved flora, fauna and soil biota. Exotic trees for their decomposing ability to build and replace soil lost to earlier farming practices. Regenerating our land requires multiple approaches and stages of progress.  Currently, it’s improving biodiversity above ground and in the soil. We do this by using sheep to graze and tramp down the monoculture of our paddock grass to encourage other grass species, forbs and shrubs to grow.  The sheep also fertilise the soil encouraging organisms and increasing carbon content.  All this and the tree planting help our land retain the little water we receive over a year (approx 620m – but not this year) making us (land, livestock AND humans) more drought and flood resilient.

Big lesson this year.  Let the plant do the work for you.  They are remarkable engines of growth so let them grow.  For years we purchased small tube stock, grew the plants in the nursery to see if we liked them and then re-potted each year.  So come planting time…well it takes a tractor and 2 folk rather than just a shovel. Call me slow off the mark but I’m finally down to my last 5 big trees to get out of pots and into the ground, then we are converting to a ‘buy tube stock – plant tube stock’ regime.

Book List September

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School of Life Bibliotherapy sessions rock! Revisiting ‘Slow’ and ongoing cooking inspiration from Rick and Hetty.

September 1 may mark the beginning of spring but it also marks the launch of a book I co-wrote with a friend from my local beekeeper’s club: Growing Beautiful Bee Gardens in the Southern Tablelands of NSW: a guide to plants that attract bees and thrive in our region.  Collaboration is such a positive creator of energy and support.  I’ve realised (see May’s entry) that even though I like to work alone, I thrive in collaborative environments.  Not something I ever thought I would say.  When you are surrounded by people who want you to succeed I suspect it’s easier to perform and give generously back.  Does it then follow that because collaboration is such a positive way to work it’s only to be expected it will produce something wonderful? My proof?  A useful little book of 50 diverse plants for folk to grow, to promote healthy bees and hives, suitable for townsfolk and country folk alike.  I’m still grinning in disbelief a whole month on.

Last word

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood

 

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I’ve finally done it – convinced the sheep to eat the rosemary…this could be a mistake.  Note how they stay in the shade to avoid the bees?