July

This July’s story of the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor is about cultivation, actual and metaphysical. Whilst the tractor actually cultivated new garden beds and holes to plant trees, the bigger story, is that we cultivated a new sense of home.

We have a rather strict policy of owner-builder monastic living – no comforts allowed whilst the house is a building site. It’s hard to live with scaffolding, building materials and debris in your space with nothing of comfort or decoration allowed in.  Totally a self-preservation tactic.  Keep it bare and uncomfortable and then we will be forced to finish this project.  Or so the theory went. It is a building site not a home, yet.

In a fit of creative energy (obviously the benefit of having had a month of “fallow time” in June) we decided to clear out the overrun spaces to assess next steps.  Clutter clearing is actually a central tenant of the minimalist aesthetic as it is thought the creation of clear space rests the eye, amplifies what is in the space and brings feelings of peace and calm. Much has been written about the power of accumulated things and the associated feelings of overwhelm, guilt and identity (see book list below).

And it is certainly true.  In our case, the clearing of the space helped us to see the potential, nature-inspired home we wanted to create. It seemed to re-invigorate our inventiveness and resourcefulness.  It has opened our eyes to see what we do have around us is very much what we were working to achieve all along. We have been cultivating solutions to long-standing issues, like in-floor power outlets.

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hooks with wreath on a newly discovered wall

It is early afternoon on a midwinter’s day, clear blue skies, the sun is warm on my back and it’s a lovely time to go for a walk to forage for materials to make a wreath. I am also cultivating a bit of self-belief and creativity.

I have always admired seasonal wreaths. Earlier in the month, a creative co-adventurer and I went on a small road trip to visit another friend and her shop. In the shop there is a wonderfully large and simply decorated wreath on display with which I am smitten.  Both friends are wreath makers and kindly dismissed the excuses I presented for why I had not tried making my own. For a long time, I had blamed our lack of garden, the half-built situation, and my lack of artistic skill as the reasons why I was not more creative.  All are utterly effective self-imposed limitations – how good am I at self-flagellation!  But with the clearing of the clutter (trumpets herald) my imagination was firing and in the days following the visit I cultivated an idea of what my own wreath would look like.  There were times I dejectedly accepted just having to wait until I could afford to purchase one.  “Just purchase one.” is a full and valid sentence. Yet it made me feel frustrated. It has been my experience that usually the purchased model is never quite right.  I want a wreath made of natural materials sourced from our area reflecting the season and this place; a very simple and large scale design; one I could recycle once the dust and cobwebs became too much.  Purchasing a pre-made wreath would not meet these criteria.

Eventually one morning, in the early hours before the negative voices were awake, I pondered on how I could start to make my own wreath. First hurdle seemed to be where to source the materials. Twigs can be purchased or foraged from the side of the road, I need something bendy, long and thin, whip-like…suddenly I knew where I could try.  And that is how I found myself walking purposefully towards a stand of self-sown invasive elm saplings in one of our paddocks, secateurs in hand. Now every tree is looked at with different eyes, possibly no tree is safe…this hits so many cultivation goals.

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all prunings, not quite to scale yet…

In kitchen garden news the broad beans have popped. We really enjoy this crop and so over successive years have never suffered from a glut.  Another happy announcement is we have started harvesting brussel sprouts, first time ever in our garden, despite years of trying.  Of the 2 plants, only one produced sprouts along its stem. We are hoping it will flower and produce viable seeds, always tricky with nursery purchased seedlings. Unfortunately, the small army of purple sprouting broccoli is just taking forever to produce any heads.

Fresh produce this month includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, calvero nero, kale, spinach, parsley, spring onions, rosemary, sage (we still have leaves), thyme.

Upcoming tasks include pruning (another wreath!) and fixing the espaliered pear trees, improving and cultivating the soil in the new vegetable beds and finding the right spot to plant the 3rd pear tree this spring.

The garlic crop has cultivated further learnings this year, primarily to be observant and comprehend drought affects EVERYTHING. A weekly inspection revealed pretty purpling on the leaves of some random plants.  The initial fascination with the prettiness of it all quickly shifted like a bad gear change, my brain lurching to “this is not normal, what does this mean?”. Thanks to the generosity of garlic growers far more experienced than I, it was quickly diagnosed as phosphorus deficiency. The next step was to identify if it was because the plant can’t access this nutrient or is there no nutrient in the soil to access. So began a long and repetitive process to test the pH of the soil.  Our tests revealed the pH was not in the prime range for the plants to access the nutrients in the soil. Garlic likes a neutral to slightly acidic pH range (7.5-6 pH). Our soil was sitting around 9 pH, highly alkaline. Why? Because organic improvements and microbes need water to assist in the decomposition process to release nutrients into the soil in a form accessible to the plants.  So July has been dominated by rounds of soil testing, application of corrective sulphur, rest, test again, correct, rest and test and it’s not over yet. Alongside the testing is the weekly application of tonics of fish and seaweed emulsions and watering to compensate for the lack of rain. It’s a lesson in better soil cultivation and management at pre-planting and during growth. I have been cultivating soil, skills and knowledge and a weeny bit of confidence to reach out when things are not going right.

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good soil = good plants

Book List July

For those interested in reading more about the power of decluttering and the minimalist aesthetic and practice these are some of the books I have found helpful.  Marie Kondo is very well known and probably available at your local library.

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some books on minimalism

Last word

I hope you find this as funny as I do.  Traditionally called the Warrior Pose in Yoga.

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how true is this!

 

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thanks for reading!

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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November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Book List November

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

Final word

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

School of Life, cards on Resilience 2018

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Run lambsy, run!

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