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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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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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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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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April

An April of delays and dry for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor.  The early signs of autumn were stopped in their tracks here as rains failed to materialise.  Our weather has been cool, stunning, clear and bright as well as pretty dusty.

When we plan out a year of farm work, house build and garden planting we try to not overload any particular time of the year.  This year the best laid plans have been sent asunder with the odd climate we have been experiencing.

Plan: February and March are months dominated by fantastic kitchen garden yields, in particular the tomato harvest.  In the last March post, I lamented how the wonderful tomato crop looked like it was running out of time to ripen before the frosts of April arrived.  How wrong I was.  The warmer than normal conditions have seen the crop peak in April and I am harvesting 5kg a day of the most picture perfect fruit.

There are no complaints here.  The house is swamped by all manner of vessels overflowing with beautiful tomatoes.  It’s a daily mission to process the tomatoes into meals, soups, sauces, and chutneys.  Friends and neighbours are now receiving kilos of tomatoes as gifts.  This is all really wonderful.

Plan: April and May are my garlic crop planting months.  April is the month of continued bed preparation, cracking bulbs, counting and preparing cloves for planting.  This is when I get to revel in the beauty of the cloves, get hands dirty in the soil and generally play garlic farmer.

But the Plan is out the window! No happy garlic idyll for April. It has been too warm and dry to plant cloves out, at least not without an irrigation plan, something that is not usually required here.  So the plan to plant garlic over Easter was shifted to a week later when the temperatures dropped below 25 degrees C during the day.  Rain is due tonight and we have everything crossed in the hope of some coming our way.

The vegetable garden continues to thrive, as it receives supplementary watering, and the warm weather means crops keep producing.  So there is this cross over between summer crops and autumn crops, tomatoes alongside broccoli, garlic coming up amongst the tarragon. Its just plain freaky!

Fresh produce from the kitchen garden this month includes tomatoes, kale, spinach, peas, cucumbers, rhubarb, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and sage.  The broccoli heads are forming, the brussel sprouts have survived the grazing and the succession pea plants are just sprouting.

The garlic paddock planting has started.  This year the focus was on improving the soil nutrition and we spent a lot of time applying layers of organic matter, manure and soil additives.  This year the cloves were pre-soaked before planting. Pre-soaking the cloves in a seaweed and microbial solution is a great way to combat planting stress, encourage strong root growth (and in turn enable better soil nutrient uptake by the plant), and provides a bit of inoculation against fungal issues on the clove or in the soil. Our method is to use 25ml of Seasol and 50ml of EM1 Bokashi liquid, diluted into 1 litre of water.  I can’t over state the difference it made to the cloves.

These cloves were soaked for 36hrs (don’t extend soaking beyond 72hrs) and they had already produced roots at the base. It makes it so very obvious now why I need to keep the water up to them, for the plant and to ensure the nutrients in the soil are made available to the plant.  Where is that rain?

Planting in April is about the early season garlic.  May is about the mid and late season garlic.  We are effectively half way through planting the crop.  They are bedded in under 10cms of straw mulch.  This year we fluffed the mulch, unfortunately, the next day the wind picked up. There is straw everywhere but on the actual garlic beds.  I doubt there is a solution here that does not involve construction of some kind of windbreak – but that is our whole focus here!

The owner-builder adventure continues albeit hard to show.  We have used solid Tasmanian Blackwood timber around the windows and doors.  It looks fantastic, but it is very hard to photograph in a way that reveals its significance to the build.  Very early on in the project, we read the finishing stage would take the most time and money of the build.  We did not realise it would also have the least impact on us.  Seeing it actually finished is very, very wonderful and yet we are rather blase about it all, almost as if it had always been there. Is it possible that our vision of the finished house is what we always saw regardless of the amount of unfinished wall, bolts and structural steel on show? Or maybe we just know there is still so much more to do! Celebrate each tiny advance is a fair motto in such a mammoth project.

Easter of course! We do not practice any religion in our house but are lucky enough to live in a country that recognises this holiday period.  It is a time to tackle big jobs or even plant the garlic crop but this year weather and travel commitments saw us very much eating, resting and spending time with our friends as we put hard work on the back burner.  I made my first panettone, a significantly belated event given how many of these I have eaten over the years, and of course a batch of hot cross buns (sans cross).  Both of these wonderful, easy and successful bakes came courtesy of Nadine Ingham of Flour and Stone bakery fame.  I am a convert, both bakes will be happening again very soon, to help me celebrate garlic planting at the very least.

Book list April

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All are truly wonderful books this month

 

I read this quote on Sarah Wilson’s Instagram page, it is with deep admiration and mirth I gift this to you my friends…

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fast asleep on the door step, waiting

 

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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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