Friday, March 16, 2018

10 things

Hello and welcome to another Friday here at Foxs Lane.

I hope that this finds you warm and well and happy in the thought that you've got a little pocket of time to yourself.

I wonder if it's morning or afternoon where you are? If you're reading on your computer or phone? If there are people around or if you're all by yourself? I wonder if you have a queue of blogs to read? If you clicked onto my site or got this as an email? And I wonder how many Fridays we've spent together you and me, through the internet, over the years?

I'm so happy that you've joined me today. I know how precious your time is and it means the world that you're spending some of it with me.

So I thought that this week, to make some sort of sense out of my jumbled up mind, we'd do one of those 10 things about right now posts. Are you ready? Okay let's get started.

Along with almost everything else in the garden that's ripe right now, we're picking and podding the scarlet runner beans that grew up the outside of the tee-pee in our garden. I love how those dried out, rattley skins slit open to expose the most beautiful purple beans.

We're picking armfuls of basil for salads, sandwiches, pizzas, sauces and for pesto.

We had a terribly wet spring and then a dreadful apple season last year, so this season feels a little bit lucky and extra special. Walking up and down the rows, watching the apples on the trees sizing and colouring up, tasting them to see if the starches have turned to sugar, and then picking bags and crates full is an apple farmers dream come true.

Once picked, most of our our apples go on the road side stall at the front of our farm. If you're passing by you should totally pop in - Daylesford Organics - 19 Foxs Lane Muskvale.

Right now the stall is full of Cox's Orange Pippin, with Red Delicious and Jonathan coming soon.

We're picking a crate of tomatoes a day, saucing them and then bottling them for winter time.

I'm sure I write this every year - but even though it feels like such a lot of work to do now, in an already crazy full autumn schedule, I love thinking of the sunshine filled gift I'm giving to winter-us by filling these jars with tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and basil.

We're renovating again. This paving out the front of the sun-room, on both sides of the front door is the start, and from here we're heading all the way across the front of the house to the right. We're extending the sun-room, we're making a wood shed and who knows what else will come up while we're at it.

This is a picture of the first sleeve, but I've actually finished that one and now I'm knitting the second sleeve of my Mirehouse sweater. Gosh I really need to get it finished soon so I can start preparing for my toe-up sock knitting master class at Soul Craft festival.

We're picking flowers. How cool is it that with most varieties of flowers the more you pick them the more prolifically they grow!! Now why don't fruit and vegetables do the same?

After I publish this we're going to pick some bunches to pop on the farm stall for the weekend. Apples and posies, sounds like the start of a beautiful weekend.

I've got the door to the studio open and I'm listening to the birds calling to each other about the delicious grapes they've found growing over our back deck. I'm listening to the washing machine telling me that it's finished its cycle. I'm listening to the wind blowing through the eucalyptus trees. And I just listened to and loved the episode of Invisibilia called - I,I,I. Him. (I should probably warn you that I had to pull my car off the road for a bit because I was sobbing so hard.)

A few days ago when I came to the end of the pile of books on my bedside table I found this copy of Picnic at Hanging Rock in the bookshelves. The kind people at Penguin sent it to me a few years ago when they re released it with this cute cover.

I actually can't believe I've never read it before, but part of me is glad I waited. The story is set in the area where I drive my girls to school every day so the descriptions of the the landscapes feel familiar and almost personal. Whenever I read a book I get completely immersed in its pages and in its world and this one is no exception. A few days ago Indi took me on a drive around the back streets of Macedon and part of the way up to Mount Macedon and although the book was set over 100 years ago in a time before cars or made roads, I could almost see the horse drawn carriage go past with a flutter of white summer dresses floating behind and hear the clapping of hooves on the ground.

From the very first page the descriptions of the flower filled, carefully cultivated gardens have delighted me. Sentences like 'Out in the gay green garden beyond the schoolroom the bed of dahlias glowed as if they were on fire, caught by the late afternoon sun' were written more than 50 years ago but could easily be used to describe the scene outside our sun room on any given February or March afternoon.

I am smitten by this haunting tale, the characters, the eerie mystery, the landscape, the history. If I finish reading it over the weekend I think I'll get my family to watch the movie with me.

I'll leave you with this little Buddhist thought my wonderful friend Melissa sent me a few weeks ago and I've found helpful this week. What we strain to hold - slips through our fingers. By opening our hands, things rest lightly upon our palms.

And that's me!
Tell me what you've been up to?
Where you've been?
What you've thought?
What you've done?

See you next week.



Friday, March 9, 2018

picking + preserving

Would you mind terribly if I didn't write many words this week and left you with these photos?

Farmer Bren came home this morning and told me that he thinks this weekend will be the last of the hot weather and from next week it will be positively autumnal. And then when I popped in to visit this lady who grows flowers nearby she said she's certain we'll have our first frost before the month is up and that it'll be 'a doozy'. 'Like Snow', she remarked casually while I started hyperventilating walking back to my car.

I am not ready!

I know we've had the most incredible growing season this spring and summer. I know that my fears of growing without poly tunnels for the first time in 15 years were unfounded. And I know that I should really be thinking about some sort of frost protection for the summer vegetables and flowers to extend their season a little. But still I love this colourful, busy time of the year and I'm not ready to say goodbye just yet.

So if it's all the same to you, I'm going to leave it at that this week, I'm going to press publish on this post, and then I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon: harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers, watering the bits of the garden that still aren't irrigated, looking for the apple bunting I made a few years ago, picking Cox's Orange Pippin apples, making some flower posies, touching up the signs for the main road, making the apple stall look cute for the long weekend, fermenting some cucumbers, filling the Fowlers machine with jars of tomato sauce, making some more apple rings for the dehydrator, feeding the chooks and dogs, hanging the washing on the line and making dinner for the girls.

Why don't you tell me a bit about what's going on in your world instead.
What's on your urgent list of things to do today?
What are you procrastinating by doing instead?
Are you ready for the next season?
What are you baking, making, growing, planning, dreaming about?

See you next week!

Love Kate x

Friday, March 2, 2018

two autumn hours

It's autumn, the sky is white and overcast, there is a sticky fruit smell in the air, and I'm wearing a cardigan.

This morning on the way home from dropping Pepper at school I had a little panic about the fact that I had no idea what to write my blog about today, and not one single photo from the week on my camera. What to post about? What to say?

For so much of the year we're looking after the plants and trees hoping that eventually they'll look after us. For so much of the year we're waiting and watching. For so much of the year being a farmer feels like just another word to describe a problem solver. And for so much of the year we're dreaming of arms and baskets and crates full of produce. Of compot, and pesto and fritters, oh my.

And then BAM we're here! Harvest-time!

In one day last week I found myself picking hazelnuts, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, apples, plums, nectarines, nashis, grapes, zucchini, cabbages, onions and a bunch of flowers. On another day I squished hundreds of tomatoes and made sauce, I halved and froze plums, I stewed a crate of nectarines, fermented some cucumbers, made dried apple rings and plum leather. My head is spinning.

It's crazy. There's a queue of black crates filled with produce by the front door waiting for me to process them and the overflow is covering the kitchen table.

I keep thinking about how great it would be if the harvest was spread out over the whole year instead of just a few weeks. But it's not, so I'm running with it; trying to remember that for the next year I'll dream of picking a sun warmed plum straight off the tree, I'll wish for a nashi grabbed in a rush on the way to school, a lunchbox filled with garden goodness, afternoon tea picked greedily off the vine. It's a crazy and colourful and sticky time of the year, it feels bountiful and lucky and I'm so happy to be here at long last.

So this week my blog is a two hour view into that crazy. I took each one of these photos between 9 and 11am this morning and I think they can give you a little  glimpse into our world.

While we're picking and preserving like crazy, we're also preparing for winter by filling up the green-house with vegetable and flower seeds.

We're watching the decline of our amazing zinnia crop and noticing that the bees don't seem to mind. Hopefully we'll collect lots of seeds for next season's flowers before we pull the whole row.

We're always watching and learning and admiring.

I bought a bag of mystery dahlia tubers from our local fruit and vegetable shop last spring, I'm so excited that they're finally flowering.

There's a row of perennial flowers right up the top of this garden that doesn't have its irrigation connected yet. I love those few minutes every day when I can stand hose in hand giving them a drink, checking on their progress, pulling a few weeds and then standing back up again to look at this beautiful, colourful view.

I don't know the proper names for most things in our garden, but I've been with them from the time they were tiny seeds, to a few leaves, all the way through to their buds and flowers. I've watched them and encouraged them every step of the way. And now I'm so proud of them. I really am.

When we first started talking about growing rows of flowers I dreamt of taking photos of our girls in the late afternoon light, wearing sun-dresses and carrying armfuls. I'd better get my act together now it's autumn, while there's still sun and colour and a bounty of blooms.

I'm obsessing over our nashis. Gosh I love them. I think I ate about eight yesterday.

I'm loving all those baby scarlet runner beans.

We're always cutting big bunches of flowers.

You know it never occurred to me that the art of flower arranging may be a little elusive to me. I think I thought that the flowers would lead me, as would all the millions of pictures of arrangements I've looked at in my time. But I'm here to tell you that it hasn't been as simple as I'd thought. Sometimes it does come together quickly and looks like the beautiful posy I'd pictured in my mind. But other times have found me pulling bits out and sticking them back in so many times that the stems get bent and the leaves start to droop and I wonder what made me think I could do this in the first place.

I've found the best way for me to practise is to have a few vases on the go and to add and subtract over the day each time I walk past them. It's been fun to try my hand at round posies as well as the more asymmetrical, sprawling arrangements. 

I'd love to do a flower arranging class or 10 at some stage. Maybe later in the year.

And of course we're picking apples.

Galas this morning.

Picking bags full.

And crates full.

While watching the other varieties carefully.

Coxs Orange Pippins will be next and shortly followed by Red Delicious.

We picked Abas yesterday.

And we're finally filling the little stall at the front of our farm. Yay! It's so exciting to throw open those doors, fill the shelves and invite the people in.

I can't tell you how much it pleases me to know that the apples we've been picking are going straight into the shopping bags of our lovely customers. There are no trucks, no cold-stores, no middle-men, no retail mark-ups, no-one to notice if you're in your pyjamas - just fruit (and hopefully flowers soon), all grown by us, picked by us, certified organic and most importantly DELICIOUS!!

If you are local, if you are passing by, or if you've been dreaming of a day-trip to our lovely area - please pop by.

We're at Daylesford Organics - 19 Foxs Lane Muskvale

All the apples are $6kg, please bring correct change and your own shopping bag.

And that's me for the week!
I'd better get dressed now, we're off to a picnic at the big girls' school.

How have you been anyway?
Have you had a good week?
What are you picking from your garden?
Are you a good flower arranger?
What were you up to between 9 and 11am this morning?

I hope you have a gorgeous sunshiny weekend.

Lots of love,

Kate x

ps. thanks so much for all of your sleep remedies, support and suggestions,  I've made a list and am slowly working through it. x

Friday, February 23, 2018

bugs on the flowers

I don't know where I should start this blog post: With the flowers - the larger, metaphorical picture, or with me - the smaller personal one?

Okay let's begin with the flowers.

If you've been following along here for a while, you'll know that sometime last year, after about 16 years of organic farming, something inside of me felt very strongly that we had to start growing flowers. I think it was the romantic picture in my head of row after row of beautiful blossoms that initially drew me to them, but it also had a lot to do with the colours, the shapes and the need to grow something completely new and different.

So we prepared a patch and planted a green manure crop to nurture the soil, then we spaded it in, planted seeds, set up the irrigation, weeded them, visited them several times a day and gave them our energy, fertilised the soil and their leaves, staked them to help them stand upright in the weather and then we started to marvel as bud after bud began opening and our garden of green stems and leaves became filled with flowers.

Of course we were overjoyed and in love! We picked them and made posies, we gave big bunches away, we took loads of photographs of them and we even sold some.

But then, as is so often the case in farming, as soon as you think you've got something, Mother Nature comes along with her own ideas.

One day we woke up to find a cloud of tiny bugs in the flowers. We tried to shake them off, but they flew right back and landed. A few days later we noticed that some of the leaves of the plants looked eaten and in fact some of the flower petals did too.

Not the flowers!!

After 17 years of farming apples and vegetables, we've come in contact with most of the problems that can crop up and mostly know the reasons why they do, but flowers are a new and completely different story. We were starting from scratch.

So we took pictures of the bugs, we looked at them under magnifying glasses, we googled to identify them, and then we tried to find out all we could about why they'd come and how we could get rid of them.

Around the same time I discovered a bunch of people on an online flower grower forum were dealing with the same issue.

To start with we changed the irrigation from overhead to drip to get rid of the tropical atmosphere we had created. Then we waited and watched, and I worried. The online people were buying 'organic insecticide' to kill the bugs and were starting to see results, but still we waited and watched, and I worried.

After a while the joy that had filled me up whenever I'd spent time in the garden turned to dread as I encountered misshapen buds and asymmetrical flowers and more signs of the bugs making the flowers their homes.

After a week or so of expressing my anguish at our inaction, a courier turned up one day to deliver a bottle of the 'organic insecticide'. For a second my heart lifted at the thought of the imminent solution and then I looked over at my farmer boy's face and saw that it wasn't that simple: what I thought was going to be the solution was filling him up with dread. The insecticide went into the shed and we went back to watching and waiting.

The next day I noticed that the weather had changed, the humidity had gone and the insects had reduced in number. Some time after that some of the most magnificent dahlias I had ever seen opened up their great big, perfect faces. And then a whole bunch more. And I was delighted.

But then you guessed it: the weather changed, the bugs returned, I went back to the online flower farmers and saw that they were still spraying and I started hassling my farmer boy with 'when can we spray?' all over again.

Time after time I brought it up and it didn't happen. I threw at him that when there were issues with the apples we did everything we could to try to fix them - we sprayed potassium bicarbonate in humid weather against black spot, we fertilised them to make them healthy and strong, we netted them against the birds and hail, and we tried to keep the kangaroos out. But he drew the line at insecticide and the bottle of oil sat in the shed.

Looking back I'm not sure why I didn't mix it and spray it myself. I guess I must have known deep down that that's not how we do things here. It's reactive and panicky. I've also heard enough stories of farmers getting the maths wrong and killing whole crops by mixing the wrong quantities.

A few weeks into this bug story I finally understood what was going on. We were sitting in the car one day and he told me that in our recent organic inspection the inspector had asked him what our weed management plan is. 'I don't believe in weeds', he replied. 'I think that answer should automatically guarantee your organic certification', she replied. And then I understood.

Panicking and using insecticide to kill the bugs, even if it is organic, upsets the natural balance. The insects are there for a reason and we can't possibly understand what impact eradicating them will have on our environment. It feels arrogant to think that we know what effect killing some bugs will do to the bigger garden picture. Ladybugs, frogs and hover-flies predate on aphids and thrip; what happens to their populations without them? Once we start on these interventionist paths it can change our mindset and the whole way we garden. Once we believe we can control things, the quick fix becomes expensive and we get addicted to it.

Let alone the fact that the spray we bought is certified organic for use on flowers but not on food.

So like the cabbage moth caterpillars on the cabbages, the slugs on the lettuces and the slater-bugs in the strawberries, I've come back around to plucking off those I can, researching gentle, kind, natural methods of control and trying to be patient and accept. To trust Mother Nature and hope that this crazy wind blows them away.

Which in a very long winded way brings me back to me. Despite continuing with the meditation and starting on Valerian tablets I'm still not sleeping well. The past few days have also found me feeling overly sensitive and weepy. But instead of heading down the path of prescription sleeping tablets which I have been tempted by so many times, I've decided to trust my farmer boy's theory and be patient, look for the kind and natural solutions, remember that the four other women in my family also suffer from sleep issues, and hope that this crazy wind that's going to blow away all the thrip, takes my grumpiness and sleep issues with it.

Oh my goodness, I did not intend to write an essay. Are you still with me? Does the metaphor work? 

I think I need to end this by stating very clearly that I'm DEFINITELY not judging farmers who deal with their weed issues as problems or their bug issues by spraying; or people who respond to their sleep issues with medication. We are all about balance here and believe that it's okay for everyone to draw their own line in the dirt.

Just quickly to end this off because it's fun -
I'm reading The Language of Flowers, my dear and thoughtful friend Delia sent me and so far it's beautiful.
I'm still knitting the back of my Mirehouse sweater.
We've just finished watching and loving Better Things (thanks for the recommendation Abby x).
I'm listening to This Is Criminal podcast.
And I'm hoping that our girls come home from school happy and calm for the weekend.

What about you?
How are you feeling? What are you hoping for? Dreaming of? Sleeping remedies?

Sending love and a bunch of imperfectly perfect dahlias.

See you next week.

Love, Kate xx

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