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:
smoke haze nights
smoke haze days
sleeping, reading and tea
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.
This January was full of milestones for the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor. Another shearing day under our belt, progress in the house build and celebrating our first year of storytelling here on this blog.
Exactly a year ago, in the first post, I showed a picture of zinc coated kitchen cabinetry – bespoke in all the glory of the word. Time is a benefit to the owner-builder, not in an economic sense, rather the ability to take time in deciding design and materials. With the chance to experiment and explore the more unorthodox solutions and get creative in the process you too could end up with bespoke cabinetry. Below are pictures of the kitchen today, along with the construction phases, finished with the originally designed wood cabinetry. There are quite a few marine notes to this landlocked build, only out here we joke about how we may have mislaid the water and the boat but have plenty of wind to sail a house.
Framing the space
Walls: front kitchen
A range at last!
Finished: waiting on shelf
Bespoke zinc cabinetry
I am amazed at how much warmth the natural wood has added to this central space. After many test pieces we settled on a native wood to avoid painting construction wood, the use of plastic wrapped cabinets, high maintenance marble or highly reflective glass. Wood seemed to address these issues, was a medium we can work in with easy access. The next step is to add some greenery and personal touches that make cooking, sitting, discussing and working in the space all the more pleasurable.
Misty morning grass
I’m starting to see things
We have experienced the hot version of every season this month. Summer started bang out of the gates with multiple 5 day runs above 35°C – blowing the average number of 5 days in summer out the window. Thankfully these vile runs of heat have been punctuated with much cooler misty moisture laden mornings and afternoon downpours (read: heightened garlic curing anxiety). I note I only seem to photograph the rain days and not the high searing eye blinding heat days. In context, I never thought I would view a day of 33°C as a ‘cool change’ but either my new found climate adaptability or a new level of insanity is finally at play.
Shed interior, with tree
Morning rush hour
Wool press: old but working
Wool bale weight check
We had our 2nd shearing day just after New Year. Planning starts at least a month out in order to fit in with various crew commitments. Excluding death, fires and rain, the date set is the date you shear. This time it was the first of the 40°C heat cycles for the month. Even with a very early start, in an attempt to beat the heat, we were grateful this was a small flock. Shearing at this time of year was a new experience and with the time spent ensuring water, shade and safe cartage for the days leading up to shearing day we don’t plan to repeat the timing. It’s stressful on the human and woolly folk.
Tree = shade
Feel the mental relief?
Shade from mature trees is what we crave at our exposed site during these extreme weather events. Trees provide both shade and airconditioning on hot days, something all animals need. We don’t have enough mature trees throughout the paddocks and around the house despite our planting efforts. Without sufficient shade, the extremely hot weather makes rotational grazing difficult to implement in our regenerative practice. On a long list of limitations, we have yet to resolve having only 2 mature shade-giving trees on the property. These 2 trees need to cover 3 months of potentially super hot weather and accommodate 4 months rest between use. After grazing the first paddock, let’s say for a month, it is ideal to rest this paddock for 4 months to ensure sufficient regrowth of pasture. After the first month, the sheep are moved to the next paddock with a tree and once this month is up, where can they go? They can not go back to the first paddock, as it will risk over-grazing the plants. Perhaps in a year with normal rainfall, the pasture may have regrown more quickly enabling us to reduce the rest period – but that is not our experience this year. So we face opening up untouched land with very long grass and juvenile tree lots. Read plenty of fencing work and taking the tractor out into the paddocks in hot dry conditions. Something we always try and avoid to reduce the risk of starting a fire. Machinery, dry grass, and an unseen granite rock are all you need to create havoc. This requires another vehicle loaded with water shadowing the tractor. A tense day for all. One day, after much more experience and sound practice, our place will be a rare haven in times of heat stress.
Rouge de Marmande flower
Baby Rouge de Marmande
Baby San Marzano
Tomato trellis in action
The kitchen garden is ever evolving. The perennial rhubarb and tarragon are well established, the chives, spring onions and parsley are looking good. I have planted more peas and am trying cucumbers again. The tomatoes are thriving. This year I am trialing using a trellis system for the 2 varieties, San Marzano (Italian plum) and Rouge de Marmande (French beefsteak). The idea, from “Backyard Bounty” (ABC Organic Gardener, ABC books, 2017), is to reduce time spent staking, tying and thinning the bushy plants. I usually plant 20 homegrown seedlings in a highly fortified fenced off area in the vegetable patch. I do have to grow more than I need to compensate for humans, inquisitive sheep (fencing testers extraordinaire) and failing irrigation. Ruthlessly any plants that don’t make it into the secure zone are given away.
Book List January
I mixed it up this month, with a long and engaging listen to “A Gentleman in Moscow” on Audible and some print books. The audible book was over 17hrs of listening. I listened to it at night before bed, forcing me to sit still, like TV does, but with many more benefits. It definitely extended the experience of the novel because I am confident I would have read/gobbled the book much faster, but not managed the Russian names anywhere near as beautifully.
With all the hot weather I have really struggled to put myself near any heat source such as a BBQ, gas hob or oven. My reading list reflects my attempts to produce satisfying raw vegetable dishes, with the book by Nadine Ingram vicariously feeding any baked goods cravings. In the Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk, I came across an interesting suggestion that we need to move from being ‘less bad consumers’ to ‘producers’ in order to change the world from mass consumerism and industrialised farming. Putting utopian ideals aside, he suggests growing your own vegetables instead of purchasing organically grown vegetables, harvesting rainwater and cycling it on your land rather than buying a water saving device and so on.
Worrying pretty much all of the time isn’t a sign that something has gone wrong, merely that we’re properly alive.