Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What happened in December?

Marty returned to work this morning, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to catch you all up on the holiday happenings.

It's been a wild December, with my Mum making a big move to Queensland, we did what we could to help out. Since we're only a couple of hours from the home she's now selling, we could get down there and make it look all pretty for prospective buyers.

Then, while Marty had a little time off from work, we spent a week up at Mum's new place, in the sun and sand.

The roadside honey was delicious!

Marty with his feet in the water.
It was lovely up there, so green and the humidity was quite bearable. Actually, we're both glad we took our jumpers with us, because it got a little chilly at night. It made a wonderful change to the weather at home, since it's so hot and dry, there's not much green left. While we were gone, the forecast said 43°C (109.4°F) at home, and I know we're consistently warmer than the forecast ever says. Many plants simply cooked in the heat, despite being irrigated on a timer.

Luckily the chooks fared ok, although somehow a fox (I guess) took our elderly hen, Toupee. It was sad, but thankfully everyone else is ok. The electric fence is usually fox-proof, so it must have been one desperately hungry fox!

Areas of raised dust.
We drove home to be greeted with the usual dusty dry conditions. The photo above was taken north of us, near West Wylong. That's soil, and it seems to have become a new normal. They just call it "areas of raised dust" in the weather forecast. It occurs when the soil is left exposed, around here it's done by plowing (which for some unknown reason, we've seen plenty of this December), or letting stock eat at the same ground for far too long, until there's no cover left. It upsets me, but money comes first in this world, not soil heath, not animal/stock or even human health.

Speaking of human health..

I'm always researching and learning about all kinds of things, and health and food is one of the most important things. I know that you are what you eat, and since Marty came to live in Australia, we've been trying to fix my health with diet. We've tried an elimination diet that my Doctor had us on for 6 years with some good results, but our energy levels were never great, and I still was in pain for too much of my life. We tried Paleo when we moved here to the farm, and the goal was to grow as much food for ourselves as we could. Thinking it was the poor quality food we were eating.. but that left us feeling really terrible, and in order to get more energy, we went back to eating sourdough bread and even started adding lentils and beans to our diet.

Still not satisfied with my health, poor strength or lack of energy, I did some more research and found out about the Carnivore diet. So, after a bit of re-training my brain, to begin to accept that meat is nutrient dense, that we don't need plants after all, and that yes, it really could be that simple.. Marty and I got stuck in.

We've been eating meat for about a month now, and there have been days where we can really feel the benefits of this way of eating. Super energy, super strength (I did the first chin-up of my life!), less anxiety and depression, and no pain anywhere. Other days haven't been so great, and I've had short bouts of fibro pain and on others it feels like we're walking through mud. So, yes, we're still in the transition period, but it seems to get a little better every day. So far, though, this is an improvement on how we were feeling before, so we're sticking to this for a while.

Given the change in diet, our whole perspective on things has changed a bit. It'll be interesting to see what happens over the next few months! Right now, I'm less worried about having water in the tanks, because we're not relying on the water to grow any of our own food. As long as we've got enough to wash our hands and water the chooks (and Squeak!) then it's enough. Besides, since when did worrying bring the rain anyway?

Will update again soon. :)

Monday, November 12, 2018

Rain for the trees & frogs

Oh it was beautiful! 50mm of lovely rain followed by a light show of 4 thunderstorms in the distance between Tumbarumba to our east, and Albury in the southeast, making the grain silo look like an evil castle in an old movie.

The tanks are in a much more healthy state, and the plants that made it until now are very happy indeed. The rain spurred some native gum trees to flower, as are the peppercorn trees, which are humming with bees again.

Speaking of bees, the Blue Banded bees have awoken finally, I was beginning to worry, but they were only sleeping-in.

We've been spending our weekends sorting the irrigation in the shadehouse, and now we've had a little rain, I feel more confident planting some things in there. The chooks will be moved to their favourite summer spot under the figs next month. Although I prefer to move them more often, they will most likely stay under the figs for the whole summer, because it's the most shady place available.

Yesterday's snake didn't even see us! Marty and I were feeding the worm farm when I saw a golden brown shimmer in between the dry belladonna leaves. I didn't feel very comfortable standing there anymore, but Marty finished up so I kept my eye on the garden. All of a sudden, the snake realised we were there and took off so fast in the opposite direction, Marty didn't even have time to turn his head to watch it disappear. It may have been the same one we spotted by the water tank earlier that day. That's a pretty popular spot, offering warmth of the water storage, some mid morning sun, as well as a quick escape route behind the pump locker. I intend on making the walkway there a little wider, less grassy and more visible, just in case.

The recent rains soaked into the land like a sponge, with not a puddle left behind. it's certainly given rise to some optimism and good cheer. The weather people are saying there's a high chance of another decent drop tomorrow and Wednesday. We're certainly hoping so. I bet the Peron's tree frog would also like some more. I hear it's call just the once every day, but we've seen them in the worm farm (probably enjoying a worm feast) and even in the chook's water buckets. I love to hear critters enjoying the garden, and it's been lovely hearing people on talkback radio say they're keeping their gardens messy for the frogs!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Oh, for ranting out loud!

Lately, I feel like the longer I'm away from society, the crazier it seems to be getting. I don't often get swept up in news on the telly or on the radio, or outraged by the latest issues. There's no areal for the TV, and I don't listen to the radio. It's pretty hard to get a good signal, so I gave up a couple of years ago. When I do step out into the "real world", it's a bit shocking.

Marty and I visited my Mum the other day (it's been a long while since we have been there, but she's moving interstate, and I needed to say goodbye). We saw multiple small trucks spraying chemicals, blanket spraying anything within a metre or two on the side of the road. That's a lot of chemicals, not to mention the money, and of course, those weeds will be back and they can do it all over again. No design, no plan, just keep doing the same thing over and over.. what's that the definition of again? Insanity? No, these days it's the definition of keeping the system going, people get paid, everyone's happy.

There are (big expensive) signs on the side of the road warning people to prune and clean up their fruit trees to prevent fruit fly. I have been asked lately if we get fruit fly by people I talk to when shopping in town. It seems to be on people's minds, so I imagine there's quite a campaign, although I don't see it. So, here's my answer.

NO! I don't have a fruit fly problem.

At first, I thought it was because of the frosts, but I think I'm not giving my local bird population enough credit.

Our fruit trees have been here longer than Marty and I have. They're pretty healthy despite neglect over the years, and produce great fruit and don't suffer disease. The ground under them is wild, with herbs, grasses, and mess. Some of the fruit decays on the ground and on the tree, year after year I suppose, for much longer than we've been here. Yet, still no fruit fly.

Yes, people around us have fruit fly problems, so I've heard. They've also got kids, dogs, cats and lawns. I imagine that doesn't leave much for the choughs to pick through, if they're not scared away by the pets. The choughs perform the functions of chickens in a permaculture design, except they feed themselves, breed successfully every year, and are well adapted to living in this environment. This year, the choughs have two babies, and they're spending a lot of time handing around the garden, turning over every leaf and stick. Straw flies through the air and holes are dug, it's a "mess", just the way they like it. You'd have to be a lucky fruit fly larvae to survive all those beaks searching for you!

The mummified fruit on the trees is taken one at a time throughout winter by the butcher birds. Horrible name they have been given.. I absolutely love them! Their song is something else, and they're so intelligent! They take a mummified fruit on the wing, grabbing it with their foot and transferring it to their beaks mid flight! I adored watching it from the loungeroom window. They then take that fruit and find a fork in a log or other such thing we've got lying around, and wedge it in there and peck it apart. I imagine it's quite sweet tasting! It's just dried fruit, after all.

I'm hearing about people getting into trouble and being threatened with fines, if they don't clean up their trees.. prune, pick up fruit, make it clean and neat. There's no way I'll be able to explain to someone "in authority" that no, there aren't any fruit fly issues here, that the wild birds keep the balance, and it's the simplification of our environment that's causing the pest problems in the first place. I can't express myself well when under pressure, so I feel like I have to express it now, before anything like that happens. I know it won't make a difference to the outcome, but I need to get this out there!

Spraying, pruning, netting the trees, mowing and cleaning right up to the trunk of the fruit tree. Those are the problems, not the solutions. Simplifying the environment, trying to control every single thing, and with our human brains already trying to do so many other things, what makes us think we could possibly imagine all the outcomes of everything we do? It's taken me over 3 years to see what's actually happening with just this one system here. This land is my teacher. Mother nature knows what she's doing. We just gotta stop trying to control everything, stop interfering, and get out of the way.

Sure, we don't get every peach that each tree produces. We don't get a perfect crop from every tree every year. There are at least 7 peach trees, so there is plenty enough for us to enjoy sweet juicy fruit in the summertime, the birds and other animals get more than enough, too. It's more akin to foraging than it is to an orchard. Sure, it's not a commercial venture, but it's not suppose to be. It's worked for probably over a decade, and continues to work today, and unless some "authority" trespasses onto our land and tries to tell me to clean it up, I imagine it'll continue to work for many seasons to come.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Springtime 2018

In my own garden-version of no-kill cropping, I have experimented with all kinds of ways to keep from ripping weeds out of the soil, while attempting to keep my preferred plants sunlit. I find my old hand sickle far too large to use between plants. I have tried my garden knife (called a Hori hori) but it isn't sharp enough to cut grass and weeds cleanly without ripping. I then tried taking flowering seed heads off the grass with my hands. That doesn't work well when the grass lets go of the soil instead of the flower. So, I found some old grass shears that were probably in a bunch of old gardening tools, won for a few dollars at a clearing sale years ago. They're old, but in good condition, although my hand is definitely getting stronger using these shears! There's a pinch spot you have to be careful of, and a glove is useful. The cut is much nicer though, clean, and accurate. If I accidentally cut off some garlic leaves, at least I know the garlic isn't completely done for!

However, I did leave it a little late to find the best tool for the job. The grasses are flowering and dropping pollen with every snip, which makes for a sneezing, eye-watering experience. Still, everything that is cut stays where it falls, and it's fast and much easier than pulling and ripping. It's quiet, clean (no dirt flying anywhere, no dirt under my fingernails!) and I feel better not killing.
On the other hand, I understand there's a satisfaction in taking out the frustrations of life by pulling weeds, and yes, the grass are annuals and are going to die once they've flowered anyway, but this way, a living root stays in the soil as long as possible. That's the main thing. I'm going to keep going with this and see what happens.

I've been keeping the mono garlic neat and trimmed using the shears for longer than the kitchen garden beds. I simply trim back the grass around the garlic, let the grass lay where it fall, and rake the leaves and mulch back over the bed. I rake the leaves and mulch back about once a week at the moment, because the choughs are extremely diligent (but not neat) about their bug control duties.

Did I mention that I added a couple of extra hoops to the shade-house? They're a bit bigger than the original hoops, which might need to be fixed before the shadecloth goes on, but it doesn't bother me if it looks a little funny. What is funny is when birds like kookaburras or ravens or choughs try and land on the slippery hoops, wings and tail waving all around trying to keep from falling off. Well, it's either funny or I'm starting to loose it out here on my own. :)

Speaking of loosing it, I am really glad that snakes can't hear. I think they'd be offended at the scream that I let out when I see one! Honestly, I can't help myself! They're so beautiful, and after I've screamed, I usually try and get a little look at their shimmering golden brown colour. Being an Eastern Brown, I don't get closer, and every time I see one, it gets away from me as quickly as possible, which is really quick!
Almost everyone I've met around here kill snakes on sight. It's not legal, it's not ethical, it's not necessary. Well, maybe if I sprout a tail and get really small and fuzzy all of a sudden. They eat mice, not people. :p

The water tanks are about half way full. The house tank is 22,500L (5,000 gal) so, maybe 10,000L (2000 gal) full, and the structure tank (pictured above) is 10,000L, so another 5,000L (1000 gal) worth in there. The structure tank fills up faster than the house tank when it rains, and I wanted to access that water for use in the food gardens before it had a chance to overflow. I started digging the ground with a mattock to bury the water line (important as the tractors and cars drive over this spot occasionally). I found the mattock to be .. well, I'm sure you can imagine, even after a rain, the mattock makes that dull thud on the ground and little old me didn't bother doing that for too long. I found the broadfork to be an excellent tool to use instead! It went in to the soil much deeper and kept the soil in big chunks. I lay the blueline in and rolled the chunks back over the top of the pipe. Easy, even for me!

And finally, in keeping in the spirit of being nicer to the soil, I bring you seed balls version 2.0. The no-clay version.
I planted some bean seeds last month. It was a bit too cold to plant, but about 4 or 5 plants are still alive today. I re-seeded the spots that didn't make it, but this time I encased about 3 or 4 bean seeds into a ball of worm castings, and planted the whole thing. Our worm farm has been doing really well and we have enough castings to put them to good use in the garden at last. I almost can't wait to see if it works! The castings should help give them a good start, and I'm also adding dolomite to the soil around any other seedlings that I transplant. If things keep going well, and we get some more rain, we should have a really interesting growing season ahead. With all the researching, reading and educational and inspirational podcasts I've been listening to, I've been looking forward to putting it all into practice. Still, it's only spring, and when the dry, windy 40°C plus (104°F plus) weather hits, this positive attitude could very well wither and die like the grass in the paddock. Speaking of the paddock, I had read that one of the best ways to mulch (we do it with the mulching mower on the back of the tractor), is to cut it before the pollen falls from the grasses. That way, green premium hay is dropped onto the ground before the summer heat. I really enjoy "mowing", and because I cut high, and the grass isn't thick due to the lack of rain over winter, it was quite easy to do. I cut less than half the grasses, and will cut a little more soon, although I maintain quite a lot of long, wild areas to keep insects and other critters happy.

Until next time!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Blooming beautiful August

It's starting to become green around here, as well as yellow, and white and red from the flowers that are blooming. It's beautiful, uplifting and gives me hope. It's the kindest time of year for the garden, despite the cold mornings, there is moisture around. I'm deliberately not pulling weeds this year. I'm partnering with them instead. Lets see how it goes!

Broccoli seedlings in a mass of "weeds"
Giving the plants I want an advantage, of course, but leaving the living roots in the soil - that's what it's all about. I've been reading "Call of the Reed Warbler" by Charles Massy, which talks about regenerative agriculture in Australia. Inspirational. There are farmers in worse conditions than ours, using no or minimal inputs, not killing plants, and supporting the soil life to make a living. True managers and caretakers of our land. He talks about plenty of farmers, but Bruce Maynard and his "no-kill cropping" is my favourite. :)

The wattles we planted along the fence-line are flowering

The almond flowers look lovely, but I planted the jonquils for their smell
I've been watching everything I can on YouTube with Gabe Brown in the USA who's keeping a living root in the soil at all times. I heard him talking in an interview about Colin Seis as being an the next big innovation, which got me reading about him in the book above, and realising Joel Salatin was talking about this stuff too when he was in Australia not too long ago. It's a revolution! :)

A local native fern growing at the top of the hill
So, given that I'm absorbing so many inspirational ideas lately, and that the grass is finally getting green and the local birds are singing their hearts out, it's hard not to get caught up in it all. The new bird for this year is the Noisy Friarbird that I can't seem to get a photo of.. but click on the "Calls" play button on the right side of that linked page, and you'll hear what I've been hearing lately. Along with the usual bird sounds of the Choughs squawking and arguing by the dam, the soft "alarm" of the Grey-Crowned Babblers, the squeaking of the parrots looking for nest sites (sometimes sounding like they're tearing holes in our roof to make nesting sites), the crowing of our rooster and the faint sounds of the Guinea Fowl from the neighbours. Sometimes it's so noisy, it's hard to tell the different birds apart, and other times it's so quiet, except for the hum of the bees on the almond tree flowers. The insects are starting to build in number, although they're all quite slow in the cold. Easy to take photos of, at least!

I feel a little bit like a kid, full of hope and optimism. I know summer is just around the corner, though, and I'm expecting a tougher year than last. The water tanks are not full, and it'll be many years before the shade trees help cool things down in the garden. Still, it's not all as bad as the news makes it out to be. We don't have livestock to feed and water, and for good reason for the time being. I really do believe that well managed farms will bounce back from this "drought" fairly quickly. After all, it's a natural part of the weather cycles in this country, always has been, always will be.

Welsh bunching onions x3 - finally looking happy
So, in my optimism, I'm continuing to plant trees in the hopes that they will live, grow, provide shade, insect and bird habitat, living roots and fungal networks and all the benefits that photosynthesis provides.

Until next time!