Sunday, January 25, 2015

Out of line

Gardening is hard work. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Here I've kept the gardening to a minimum, and even then it's mostly too much trouble for me to really embrace. But I do like to grow food all the same. So this year I decided to take a leaf (haha!) out of Sir Permaculturing's book and go wild — within the confines of the veggie garden, at least.

Instead of neat lines of like items — a row of carrots here, a line of broad beans there — I just dug plants in wherever. When I forgot about something and it went to seed, I let it. When the lettuces and carrots were succeeded by potatoes and jerusalem artichokes, I left them to it. And when I had a nice, freshly dug over and fertilised space to play with, I broadcast mixed seed over it: beans and peas, turnips, mizuna, chard and radishes.

The results have been good. Not mind-blowingly outstanding — one thing I've learned through this experiment is that to grow lots of food this way, you need a lot of space and/or excellent soil. But I've consistently been able to pick veggies each week from Spring until now. Last week I had a pretty good haul so I thought I'd show it to you.

The big question now is whether or not to bother with February. It's usually such a brutal month in the garden, but this summer has been so wet here that I'm tempted to keep planting right through.

Maybe I will. The less regimented approach seems to be working. And even such small successes spur me on.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

On space and connection

There's been much talk of space lately. Psychological space, I mean. It's come up in conversations with friends from the city and the country, and all agree space is important.

Important. It seems an understatement. Perhaps the main reason why the country suits me so well is because it affords as much space as I like. I know you can always shut the door of your city apartment and leave the world outside, but to have actual physical space is wonderous. A great gift, a dream made real, an answer to a craving from the depths of the heart.

Of course, most of us need connection too. What I just said about space applies equally to friends. Farmette thrives on their myriad passions and tendernesses. They are its fortune and its lifeblood.

Popular media want us to think this is some kind of weird anomaly, but is it? For me, existence is about making sense of things. To do that, I need space to reflect, and friends like you to bring my ideas to. I couldn't do without either.

That need has intensified as I've gotten older, and made a career of trying to make sense of things for others. Although it may not seem it, writing gets priority over everything else at Farmette. I stay in bed late in the morning to write. I get up to write. I read in the bath, in bed, on the train, so I can write. I do things with my hands so I can let ideas sit before I write about them. I am always, always finishing what I'm doing so I can get to writing.

I write to make sense; I have to make sense to write. There's no way to make sense without space, and no need to make sense without connection. I couldn't do without either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Never give up

I had a little something planned for you on big, fat failures. Because so many of the things I've told you about recently have failed.

Sharpening the saw chain? Failed. Not in a chain-breaking, face-lacerating kind of way, but in a nearly-burned-out-the-chainsaw-motor kind of way. Rooting cuttings from native shrubs? Failed dismally. Renovating the asparagus bed? Let's not talk about it.

But hatching duck eggs was the biggest failure of all. None had hatched. Not a one. And then this happened, which wasn't exactly inspiring either.

Life isn't like TV; Farmette isn't the River Cottage. I try new things all the time, and I fail all the time. But each failure adds items to the ever-growing list of things I want to try. Each is a motivation to do something differently.

If life in the country is one big experiment, then each failure is a beginning.

After the duck eggs failed to hatch, I moved the incubator, got another six eggs, and stuck them in. I also gave three to a neighbour with a clucky duck. And today, finally, one hatched!

Only one: my first ever. I may have got the days wrong with the incubation; I don't think the others will make it. All eyes are now on the clucky duck. And then I have four fresh duck eggs to go into the incubator when these guys come out...

Life is just an experiment. We should use our failures.  But whatever we do, we mustn't ever stop trying.

Oh, I gave the duckling a name: Fortunata.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Suburban Saturday

On Saturday I went to visit my mother in the town where I grew up.

We drove past the first house I ever lived in. At the time it had seemed a vast mansion on an expansive street. Now the street was impossibly narrow, the dainty little houses cluttered along it, crowding at the fronts of their blocks to vie for attention.

Everything was paved and guttered and white-lined; there was nothing left for the rain to soak into. Gardens, yes: snippets of fancy foliage and cottage flowers. No big trees — in fact, barely any trees at all — and everything ornamental.

My mother wanted to stop at Aldi. The national psyche seems captivated by Aldi: factory-produced, over-packaged products bought in such enormous quantities that they're always insanely cheap, despite having been shipped from the other side of the planet.

I waited in the car, in the supermarket carpark, which also faced a narrow street. People zipped in and out of spaces in tiny little cars, scurrying like ants along magically determined, invisible paths.

The pantry was designed to save me from shopping
Where had they come from? Where were they going? What would they do next?

I know: I'm being a ridiculous hypocrite. Of course I shop at supermarkets and park in carparks, and I come from somewhere and go to somewhere. I eat freighted food. And I love, love, love the glitter and thrill of a true city.

But somehow the suburbs make no sense to me any more.

Perhaps it's that I grew up spending a large portion of every grey Saturday dragging wonky trolleys around grimy, bright-lit supermarkets, and the horror of that has leaked out, staining the suburbs for me at a deeper, more conceptual level.

Or perhaps it's the isolation of the countryside that's done it. Because now, the thought of so many close-knit lives intersecting at a single point without anyone acknowledging anyone else seems incomprehensible to me. Unthinkable.

On the drive home (relief: space and green, stock browsing in paddocks and enough sky to see the weather coming) I remembered I had a neighbour coming over for dinner on Sunday night.

There was nothing but eggs in the house and turnips in the garden. On Sunday I'd ride down to Kerry's farm for whatever vegetables she had going. The sign on her fence had said Beans this week, and beans would be good. Last week I stopped in to give her a marmalade recipe; I wondered if she'd tried it yet...

This kind of life makes a lot more sense to me than the one I came from.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The kindest cut

Sometimes, death is kind. Rationally we know this to be true, but emotionally, humans are terrible with it.

This morning the duck pictured here had a prolapse. I could explain it to you, but it's too gruesome. You'll have to look it up. Worse than killing her there and then was leaving her all day because I had no time to kill her: I had to catch the train to work.

Still, when I mentioned to a friend that I would need to kill her this evening, and explained why, he asked with skepticism if there wasn't anything else I could do. It reminded me of the time I needed to kill a pre-lay pullet that couldn't walk, and a friend asked me exasperatedly, "Well, do chickens really need to walk?"

Had these people seen these animals, they'd have been handing me the hatchet themselves. Even still, these kinds of unexpected events are the hardest to deal with rationally.

Here I've spared you pictures of the reasonably horrific prolapse — I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but even I'm not that brutal. I could also have taken photos of the perfect, golden yolks, in graduating sizes (pin-head, bean, twenty-cent-piece), suspended in her reproductive tract, or the veined shawl of flesh that encased the final, fully formed, thin-shelled egg, preparing to be laid.

But what I wanted to show you is that sometimes there's kindness — even beauty — in death. Rather than its antithesis, death is the inextricable bedfellow of life. And life is beautiful.

Soft down and pearling blood,
the evening sun in her dark, dead eye.
No sound; nothing
but a sigh among the eucalypts. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Have a seat

Last year's New Year's Resolution was to re-cover my loungeroom furniture, which looks like this.

I failed. Most of it still looks like this. But over the break I did manage to re-cover a second pair of cushions. Last year I re-covered one pair, so now the two chairs are done. I still need to do the sofa and footstool.

I'm no great seamstress; every dress pattern I've ever made has been graded "Simple" and I've never done any furnishings until now.

But I have a book on sewing techniques, which explained how to do the piping, and I'm using a pair of the old covers, deconstructed, as the template for the new ones. I'm also reusing the old piping and zips.

I won't bore you with all the tedious imperfections. Instead, let me tell you about the sense of accomplishment I got today from finishing a second set of covers. Changing the covers is a good opportunity to turn the inserts around, and I'm doing my best to improve on each cover and learn from my mistakes.

So to sit down at the end of it all on a new-looking seat that is also more comfortable is pretty amazing.

But that's not all! I had some timber oil left over from my holiday project, so I decided to oil the coffee table with it. That turned the coffee table a darker shade than the rest of the furniture, so I then had to go ahead and oil every piece. As grudging as I was about that, it's only added to the thrill of the new cushion covers: it's like a whole new loungeroom setting!

I've decided to put aside time over the next three weekends, in the hope I'll get the remaining cushions done before this year's finished too.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holiday project #3

I'm not a big one for fads, and this standing desk thing seems to me the ultimate in first world problems. Your cushy office job is killing you what with all the sitting down? Tell that to the children risking their lives in Indonesian tin mines...

But a couple of weeks ago I read this article and thought that building a standing desk setup for my home office might be a good holiday project.

I had lying around some hardwood slabs a friend had cut from a fallen Blackwood tree here at Farmette. They were rough but beautiful.

I decided to make two little tables, using dressed pine slabs for the sides. I'm okay with a hand saw, although I had to improvise a saw horse...

A few angle brackets and screws later, it was time to start painting. You may remember this shade from a previous holiday project.

I decided to oil the tops with linseed oil to show off the colouring. Orange and grey. And it wound up looking pretty good.

The whole exercise took place over a couple of days. I'm pretty happy with the results — and the cleaner desk.

If you were here to look closely, you'd see that the taller table rocks slightly, that the brackets on the smaller one fixed the left upright just under a right angle. And that I should have sanded the Blackwood first.

On the up side, this was a sweet little holiday project: quick, easy, and a good way to put to use the timber, which had been sitting around needing a project for, oh, six years or so.

It's lovely to have used timber cut at Farmette to make something for the house.