February

This February the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor were decidedly busy on all things NOT tomato related.  For the first time in 6 years, our February was not dominated by the tomato harvest and preserving.

The kitchen garden is producing well at the moment.  We clearly have a tomato forest, despite the new trellis system, with plenty of green tomatoes just on the cusp of ripening.  In the last 2 days of February, I’ve collected 1kg of our expected harvest of 20kg.  A year ago I noted tomatoes do not need to ‘ripen on the vine’ to improve in flavour.  Ripening indoors certainly takes the pressure off worrying about any insect attack.  The kitchen garden supports a small flock of sparrows, geckos, and lizards who feed on the known bugs in the garden. I provide water and real estate in return.  The generosity does not extend to the rabbit who has found the kale, just how do you remove this pest? Hopefully, once Ginger the Airedale terrier is back on free-range duty the rabbit will move on.

It is with much joy I can include a picture of my first ever triumphant cucumber flower (with a sister flower hiding behind the leaf – that makes 2!) and our first Cox’s Orange Pippen apple.  All previous attempts to grow cucumbers failed due to pest attack, lack of water, and wind snapping stems.  This tiny, and I suspect, way too late to fruit, flower gives me hope for next season.  Over the failed attempts I have learned cucumbers take much more water than you think and need plenty of protection of their main trunk.  I adapted some old plastic pots which worked a treat.  As I have not got past this point previously I am sure there are more lessons in store!  For the apple, this was the only one of 8 to survive to picking, on one tree of 10 (other varieties).  I confirm this variety of apple tree is tough.  It has survived years of insufficient water, bad pruning, and sheep grazing. Takeaways for me, water every day, don’t let fruit set for the first 2 years to establish the plant, prune well and keep the sheep out. This apple represents deep patience and looks so good…and I’m too nervous to taste it.

This year I found the time to hedge the rosemary border before it set flower.  This sounds at odds with regular wisdom.  However, there were no flower buds evident and our autumn is sufficiently warm to ensure a good amount of new growth and flower before winter arrives. Rosemary is a major food source for bees here during late autumn and winter.  Last year I felt pretty sick having to hedge the border during its flowering time, so much so that I did it bit by bit to give the hard-working girls a chance.  It dragged on a bit, to be honest. I hope this approach will avoid such a palaver.

Fresh produce in the kitchen garden this month includes kale, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, basil, the last of the peas, tomatoes, and rosemary. Plantings to progress are broccoli, brussel sprouts and peas.

To distract us from the looming black hole of no tomatoes, we have put our energies into fencing new paddocks off for sheep, attending sheep farm tours and eating our way around local shows.

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Scones with jam and cream – what else?

We had a great day visiting 10 local sheep farmers in the area for the Gunning leg of the Flock Ewe Competition (a friend of mine burst out laughing when they head this – I’m yet to confirm if its deliberate, which I highly suspect, or country charm).  What hit home is how different folk farm differently and it’s been a god-awful year for most of them. We saw plenty of sheep, all in pretty good shape given the drought conditions, and plenty of sheds, some centuries old and others modern monoliths.

The garlic paddock is under preparation, with the sheep now camping in the area where the new beds will go. Where sheep camp is where the manure and urine are most concentrated.  Along with mountains of collected manure, organic inputs such as vegetable compost and microbial inputs are my key method for developing our soils into rich dark earth teeming with microfauna and flora.

Planting plan this year includes cultivating the soil to a min of 40cms; heavily fertilise with sheep manure; add soil improvers such as EM1 microbial solutions, and vegetable compost; mulch heavily but ‘fluffily’; and water consistently rather than wait on mother nature.

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The best and worst 2018 garlic crop

I thought I’d show a pic of the best and worst garlic from my crop this season. It is disheartening when you get bulbs like the one on the left, but to give garlic its due, this plant, despite the lack of water, attack by Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and insufficient nutrients, still managed to produce a bulb I can plant.  This is what they call a super clove.  Typically produced when a garlic plant goes into stress mode.  It makes the call to put all its energies into producing one clove rather than several tiny cloves.  If I plant this super clove out, in the right conditions, it will outperform a clove from an ordinary bulb.  So all is not lost – what a remarkable plant to grow.

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timber, scaffolding and in the background a wood working space – this is our living room

The owner-builder adventure continues with the delivery of the solid Blackwood timber we are using to surround our windows, door frames and the huge 4m shelf in the kitchen.  We have saved up for this for the last few months and to see it safely inside the house is a moment of excitement.  Does anyone else live with scaffolding and bundles of wood in their main living space?

Book List February

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knitting = audio books and podcasts

Audio book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I thoroughly recommend.

It was a real mixed bag this month.  On recommendation from ‘others’ I read the books written by Melanie Benjamin and I was left underwhelmed.  I enjoyed The Wife by Meg Wolitzer as the voice of the female protagonist is very believable and authentic (now there is a word for the times).  I’ve included Flour and Stone by Nadine Ingham (again) because for the first time ever I made choux pastry, as in profiteroles and eclairs. Oh yes, let me repeat, I can make profiteroles and eclairs, albeit funny shaped and sans cream.

I have (finally) discovered podcasts and the one that has caught my heart is Dispatch to a Friend by Annabelle Hickson and Gillian Bell. What I like about a podcast is that it is not like the radio where you have to suffer the comments by other listeners or topics on subjects from the far right or left of politics, or politicians for that matter! A key reason for why podcasts and audio books are now firmly in my life is that I have worked out I can knit whilst listening to them. How I revel in the double indulgence.

Last word

The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility – Paulo Coelho

 

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Paddock walk finds. The strength and fragility are so evident.  Can you see the lambswool in the nest?

 

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December

December in which the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor work around the rain and a Christmas full of comfort and joy.

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Rain is a good thing with caveats

The thing about rain and rural life – well it’s just not straightforward as “Yay, it’s raining!”  If you have a farmer in your life, drill down on their thoughts on rain, and not just the polite conversation assimilation commentary.  I’d also ask you withhold judgment if they seem a bit, well, Pollyanna, here’s my take…and my experience is embryonic.

When we lived in the city rain was really only seen as something that might impact on whatever social/sporting event we may have had planned.

When we went rural as a ‘lifestyle choice’ rain became something that was good because it helped the grass grow.

After a while, we realised the grass is really pasture and needs more than rain to grow, so we brought in livestock to help improve the soil, which along with the rain, improves the pasture (see earlier posts).

So here we are, 5 years on, with livestock, garlic crop and pasture to grow.  Rain is a mixed bag now – what matters is the quantity, type and timing.  Yes, we celebrated the December falls, however, it cost me my peace of mind.

I fretted because rain and warm weather brings out the bugs, debilitating sheep and causing fungal disease in garlic to become rampant. Last year I lost a significant portion of a stunning garlic crop to rot whilst curing, a lesson that is protecting this year’s crop beautifully.  This year we had our first experience of fly strike on a sheep.  Timely action and an experienced farmer means all is well. Positive outcome yes…however, I was left struggling with thoughts of ‘how to dispatch sheep humanely’, and this has not been resolved. This is one of those skills you just dread having to acquire, but to be able to do so humanely and respectfully is something I aspire too, which sounds most odd to say.

Furthermore, if it had not rained, well then other concerns would have filled the void and cost me my peace of mind! Perhaps there is something else going on here?  See one last thing…

Our sheep husbandry skills continue to grow.  After the last drenching session, the 2 folk were wormed thoroughly but significantly the same thing could not be said about the sheep.  More ended up on the two of us than actually down the necks of the sheep.  However this session, either the sheep were more comfortable, or the few lessons paid off, but the job is done, done well and in good time.  So with the slightest of swaggers, sheep drenching – √.  Never going to nail shearing but happy to settle for the ‘taking part with enthusiasm’ certificate.

We had our first experience of foraging, which I posted on Instagram @longview_garlic  about finding a summer gold bounty of apricots. It is a story of disbelief, joy and a happy place…but not gluttony. Mind you I was not the only one to spy the bounty and I think local folk moved fast to secure fruit before a travelling stock group made their way past the tree.

Garlic beds are empty – harvest 2018 is complete.  I thought I would be pulling the last of the garlic in Jan but after flashing around some pics and listening to those with more experience than me, this year the late season garlic got pulled a month early.  Once again it’s a mixed bag but I’m told it’s very normal to expect a distribution of bulb sizes in a crop.  I am grateful I had the wherewithal to plant a ‘test bed’ of the late season crop as I had no experience growing it.  The testbed crop seriously outperformed the paddock crop and clearly showed me the soil in the paddock beds needs much more work to bring it up to scratch.  This will take me years to perfect. I still felt seriously deflated at the lack of brilliance in the paddock crop – classic reality check, again so very grateful I started a MICRO enterprise.

Christmas was a really lovely event.  Gentle, quiet and indulgent involving well-behaved humans and dogs, special food and simple decorations that hit the mark beautifully.  We avoided the hectic Christmas rush, gift shopping was via online at rural stores, other gifts were handmade so could not be rushed and food shopping was whittled down to specific farmers market stalls or purchased locally at farm shops. The pic of the real tree is more for posterity. It’s my way of marking progress on the house because if you look at the walls in the background, they are ready for lining with the Blackwood panels.  Last year they were bare corrugated metal.  Progress is progress and patience is torturous! It is also the first year I got my way and tree decorations were kept to fairy lights only. Simple and uncomplicated.

December booklist

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Books in printed form

The book list this month is in printed form because the audible form did not get a turn. I’m trying to work out how to incorporate listening to a book whilst still getting things done. The potential is properly inviting but I’ve not adjusted.  Same with podcasts. I suspect whilst driving has potential if the internet connection is maintained and I can avoid earbuds.  Working around the house will require earbuds as I’ve noticed noise from any activity interferes with the wondrous world being created for me. The simplicity of just picking up a book is being redefined. When did it become important to multi-task whilst reading? I’m not sure my brain can do that.

One last thing

We will never rid ourselves of anxiety entirely; our best bet is to try to give ourselves slightly more valuable things to worry about.

School of Life, cards on resilience 2018

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I like how the sheep calm each other with touch and closeness. If in need of comfort just bury your head into a friend and go zen…

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Gallery

May


May has been a month all about preparation, travel, inspiration, and challenges.

I am keeping the language very short this month as I write whilst sitting on trains, planes, and automobiles. Instead, I have plenty of pics which I hope will convey our story. Oh and I’m in France and the UK and I don’t have pics to load yet.

This month I have been left basking in the glow of realising I’m surrounded by people who don’t want me to fail. After 25+ years of working in the corporate arena in which I NEVER felt this way, I’m left feeling a deep sense of support.

I travelled to Orange, in rural NSW, to attend the first My Open Kitchen Gathering.  A totally inspirational 2 days where I learned new skills and met some remarkable farmers and creatives trying to tell their story using social media.  Organised by the ‘hostess with the mostess’, Sophie Hansen, we listened, questioned, collaborated, ate and laughed on a range of topics, all designed to help us realise our aspirations.  The calibre of the speakers, panelists, and attendees was second to none.  Many of us are still coming down from the buzz.  I am re-affirmed in my commitment to source local crafts folk and producers.  I could make a list here of several folk I will now purchase products from, I mean I now know a Master Tea Blender – doesn’t that just blow your mind – that a young woman from rural NSW can achieve this international qualification and I can purchase my own customer blend of tea?

My key outcome was to realise an Instagram account.  My handle is @ longview_garlic.  If you want to see more pics from the weekend in Orange go to #myopenkitchengathering where way more talented folk have put up some stunning shots.

I mentioned to the official photographer Pip, from @photographybypip or http://www.photographybypip, that I had brought along some of my garlic to learn how to photograph it in the particular style that I liked.  I kid you not, I followed her around like a puppy, yapping away in awe and trying in vain to see what she saw.  In under 20 mins she secured a shot that I will treasure.  Post that nano moment with Pip I managed these shots:

Another skill to learn – but first, remember to actually take photos…

We did shearing day.

Shearing day is something I never thought I would experience, let alone be the one to organise and effect.  Clearly, you can’t own a flock of sheep, say you grow wool and not carry out this part of the process.  Having found myself in this situation, I note that to say ‘we are shearing’ is such a level of understatement only those who have done this truly grasp the situation.  I’m sure there are many professions with the same claim.

I’m now consciously incompetent at this wool game – but so very much in awe of the kind and generous folk who took the time to teach and work with me – they are so very unconsciously competent.  The skills they have are phenomenal and yet I never knew this until Shearing Day.  Humbled, grateful, lucky. Damn fine situation to find myself in.

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Up until last week tomatoes continued to feature in my veggie patch life. Especially now I have discovered a green tomato chutney recipe by Sally Wise. But I’m calling it now. I need the space in the patch for my winter vegetable crop of broccolini, broccoli, and kale. The other task was to prune the rosemary hedge around the patch to let more light into the space. With this plant, Tuscan Blue, it just does not seem to matter when you trim it – it its not flowering its growing so anytime works. Which is why its such a great plant.

It with excitement that we have progressed our wall lining idea.  We have invested in having a sample made up of the veneer wood panels we want to use to line the walls of our house. We have great respect for those who can install plasterboard proficiently – more so because we can’t. Furthermore, we are not fans of painting. So we think this will cover off on our inadequacies in DIY and add some warmth to the whole concrete floor, minimalist, big window look. We have gone for an Australian wood, Blackwood which does not seem to engender much love from the woodies in this world. I think they fear us being disappointed with its variancy in colour.

 

Book List May

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The list is looking a bit lean this month but thats because I’ve read some library books that needed to be returned before I could take a pic. Two in particular stayed with me this month. ‘First, we make the beast beautiful’ by Sarah Wilson and Kent Haruf’s book ‘Our Souls at Night’.  Sarah’s book is a first hand experience of how she manages anxiety, depression, thyroid disorders, all the while living a life I could not imagine having.  My good health is such a basic expectation that I would have to seriously reduce my expectations of it if I suffered any where near as much as Sarah. Kent Haruf’s book is simply a beautiful story on ageing and how human wants and needs are as vital at 70+ as they ever were.  His writing is like poetry and so very authentic.  And a word on Dark Emu because this has to be said, I did not learn this history about Indigenous Australians.  It’s vital reading for those of us who were taught they were nomadic and transitory – evidence from European explorers, pioneers and structures suggests otherwise.  Why we were taught what we taught – that’s a whole other set of cucumbers to pickle.

Last word…well I took a pic out of Sarah’s book as it so very much resonated with me and made me laugh at the same time.  May you have an anxious person in your life…

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April

Here at our place, April only hinted at autumn. ANZAC day is the “You won’t look like a wimp if you put a fire on now” day. But this year you would have received some sideways looks because the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry. If there is no rain, the temperatures are still above 25°C, no frosts and soil temperatures and moisture are more like those associated with summer – do we still call it autumn?

For me, a positive has meant the extra sunshine and warmth continue to keep us in tomatoes. I certainly don’t broadcast my positive read of this situation – it shows a complete lack of regard for the seasoned farmers whose livelihoods depend on key weather events. So I just keep preserving the tomatoes…

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Myth buster! Tomatoes do not need to stay on the vine to ripen. Pick with a blush on the shoulders and they will ripen within a few days. It means you are not battling pesky critters to get the perfect fruit.

My focus this April has been planting out the garlic patch. I have planted 4 varieties so far; Early Australian Purple, Monaro Purple, Italian Red and Flinders Island Red. In May I will plant another variety called Dunganski.

5 days after planting and the first shoots started to appear in the Early Australian Purple beds. As the month has progressed all the beds have started to shoot – highlighting just how tough and forgiving this wonderful plant is out here.

I have been having fun sheep training my small flock of 50 to come to me: rather than me having to chase them all over the paddock in long grass on foot, or train a dog or ride a motorbike. Its nothing new by any means but I am getting some funny looks from fellow sheep graziers when I mention it to them. I’m using a ‘Ship’s Bell’ and luring them with bales of lucerne. It’s a giggle when the boys come piling towards you, totally driven by anticipation, and how fast they slam on the brakes realising “crap it comes with that lady!”

With our focus on the garlic patch and the sheep, the house build has slowed right down. Despite this, the marvels of engineering are harnessed and on display with the deployment of the mini solar system to run the bore pump – automatically. That is to say, we have water pumping automatically into our storage tanks. Did I say automatically? If it were not for the high quality of our water, you would think we were living with city conveniences!

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Water on tap – automatically.

April Book List

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One last thing…

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes

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