April

April has been an intense month for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. Thankfully none of it to do with the Covid-19 pandemic. So I guess it is all very relative. If it was not for this pic of a batch of Easter buns I’d have forgotten it happened.

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yep, that was Easter

It has been a struggle to find the peace of mind to sit and write about our adventures this month. Initial drafts sounded like a litany of unexpected events out of our control. The 2 folk, the dog and the tractor have been at full throttle. It got me thinking about how our lives operate at a certain frequency, like a steady heartbeat, and then out of no-where (or quite deliberately), we experience times of extreme oscillations that seem to tip us into the realms of a racing heart and breathlessness. The Stoics suggested our stress at such times is due to our refusal to imagine the worst and prepare ourselves mentally with strategies of acceptance (note they are not advocating risk mitigation strategies). I concede we prefer to spend our down time saying “cheers!” rather than “if the bank forecloses who needs a finished house”. So daily operations continue to be conducted at a steady jog, whilst juggling raw eggs blind. And then there was April. And suddenly we have run a marathon at a sprint. Yet the Stoics walked everywhere, calmly.

Nothing happened on the house. The lack of development is a hard reality to accept, especially given how knackered we feel at the moment. But the house represents only one aspect of this new life we are creating. April is the start of the garlic planting season. This year the fledgling garlic enterprise dominates our energies and attention. We persist with building wicking beds, understanding and correcting the soil, planting and planning a perpetual growing programme across multiple beds that represents a whole new stream to the business. Not so long ago we only planned for a single harvest of garlic bulbs to cure, now we plan to grow multiple garlic products across year round harvesting. Seriously, when did we cross the marathon starting line…what happened to feeling calm? What was that about acceptance…?

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I prefer to walk than sprint, you see more

We continue to learn what our priorities are in these uncharted times.  Our priorities have shifted seismically since we started building our house. This year has really brought home our order is humans, animals, plants then house and material possessions. And yet it was the dream of an owner build that started us on this rural adventure.  It would seem when you start out on an adventure you have to accept you can only see a few steps in front of you, otherwise it would not be an adventure. Otherwise you swap panic for calm.

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No1 Woolly

Our beloved Ginger dog is fast asleep in front of the TV on her pile of mats (a girl needs choice) as we start to prepare for bed. Suddenly she bolts upright, retches to no effect, and then starts snapping furiously, bringing uncontrollable waves of frothing foam from her mouth. Then the convulsions start, violent, whole of body rigors, tense and all-consuming. Utterly out of our depth and shaking with shock at the sight unfolding before us, we grab her and work her body, rubbing and yelling at her to come back to us. The seizure is over in a matter of moments and Ginger comes round to find her two humans in her face. She is disoriented so we just keep talking and stroking her sweet face, desperately trying to restore calm.  She comes good, but there is no solace in sleep for us then or now. We work through our limited options with the vets and the specialists. We are now sprinting on snatches of sleep because we are choosing to enjoy any moments we have with her. It is an odd sort of calm.

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forever hopeful

The sheep are calmly browsing the rosemary border outside the vegetable patch. They wear a feigned nonchalance yet undeniably hopeful look. I’m pulling the corn and some of the tomato plants to make way for the broadbeans and peas.  We have plenty of perfectly shaped green tomatoes so I am inspired (my chosen response) to try making a Green Tomato Chutney. It works a treat. A silver lining for what can only be described as a properly crap season for us this year. The kale is thriving, but I suspect it just does that. Carrots, coriander, parsley, spinach, rocket, brussel sprouts, red cabbage, cauliflower, beetroot and broccolini are strong and healthy. There was even a handful of late season strawberries.  Jobs to do include planting of said peas and broadbeans and regular liquid foliar feeds and organic approved pest sprays on the brassicas.

Last word

We may be powerless to alter certain events, but we remain free to choose our attitude towards them.

excerpt from “Calm” https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/calm/

 

 

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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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December

Last month the blog was short – be prepared this month is even shorter. The 2 folk, the dog and the tractor have found themselves living a repetitive blur consisting of:

 

 

Extreme weather, all things garlic, food/sleeping/reading

Days of very early starts to beat extreme heat and dust-laden winds. Water, the most precious of commodities at the moment, is shared sparingly between humans, animals, bees, and plants. The smoked out mornings are deceptively reminiscent of lovely overcast cool starts, the watered plants seem to be thriving compared to the drought-affected dry brittle grass of the paddocks. If we knew rain was coming our minds would be reading this differently, more positively. The pics show how dry, dusty and unforgiving our landscape is at the moment.

We did Christmas, plenty of gatherings around food and good folk, all of us preoccupied with the drought and fires. Such events are vital, if only to get you out of your head and to ask how others are coping, hoping to learn something from those more experienced and resilient. Only this is unprecedented out here, we have no point of reference.

It is with a sense of pleasure that 2019 comes to a close. Plans to post a ‘decade in review’, a reflective and thoughtful conversation about the start of our adventure here will have to wait. May the next year bring you and yours all your heart desires, rudely good health, great prosperity and grand adventures.

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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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