Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dear diary

Two journal entries, three days apart.

"[Name] and [Name] lost [their son] yesterday. I can’t write about that."

"[Name] in the hospital after ordeal. I can’t write about it. I can’t write it."

I mentioned earlier that I need to make sense to write. There's not enough sense to tell you about anything just yet.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How the weather works

This weekend I was invited to stay with some friends on the coast for a two-night birthday party.

But this is fire season, and when the invitation was extended I had no idea how dry it would be. So I committed to stay for the Saturday night only.

It's turned out to be a wet summer, though, and there were storms on Friday night. On Saturday I left the goats on gorse in the forest (without shelter, since it's too hard to get the house to the spot they're in), chickens and ducks in their runs, and two ducklings of different ages in the living room with heat, water, and food.

On Sunday we'd planned a birthday lunch at a cafe, but on Saturday night someone had mentioned it was supposed to get to 37 degrees in Melbourne. I quizzed the others, but I began to feel uncomfortable about all my weird questions, which, understandably, no one knew the answers to. We were on the coast! If it got hot, we'd get in the sea! Who cared about the change? It wouldn't get that hot down here anyway...

So on Sunday morning I borrowed the phone of a lucky soul who had mobile coverage and checked the Bureau of Meteorology. The forecast was for 34 degrees in my area, but 25 tomorrow. When would the change come through? Would it be wet or dry? Windy? Stormy? I tapped around until I found the right page. The change wouldn't come till late in the day. I could guarantee the goats would have kicked their water over already, and the newest duckling was under heat in the living room.

I left the beach house just before 11am, and got home to goats and a duckling without water, and another duckling melting in its brooder. No fires, though. And the car didn't overheat on the trip home, which was a bonus.

When you have livestock or a fire threat, the weather ceases to be a frivolity. It becomes a real, live entity that affects what you do—or don't. Peak temperatures matter, but so do wind speeds, humidity, and change conditions.

This is how the weather works.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Getting good

This week, I realised I'm actually objectively good at something: bread making.

I decided to try to make an orange brioche by adapting the recipe I have, which is excellent. The end product wasn't as orangey as I'd hoped, but it was good. The friends I shared it with loved it. And it was mine.

Often, it feels like everything I do out here is new, something I need to learn from scratch. I don't expect to be good at anything; I just need to solve problems from a functional perspective. Maybe in time I'll get better—I have with the chainsaw, the brushcutter, the drill, and so on. But basically nothing's ever perfect; usually it's barely passable.

So to have a loaf of bread transform before my eyes from "competently made" to "great" was a revelation. It made me wonder: what else am I good at, but haven't realised yet?

One thing I'd like to be good at is wine making. Not long ago I shared some of last year's rhubarb wine with friends who pointed out that it tasted like rhubarb (and like wine!) and looked exactly as the recipe book described. And today it dawned on me that perhaps I'm okay with the wine making. Maybe I am.

I hope so, because with the fruit situation being what it is this season, I started two wines on the weekend: apple on the right, and blackberry and elderberry on the left. The blackberries were last season's, and frozen. I'm sure that'll affect the flavour, but I thought I'd give it a go all the same.

I made another batch of rhubarb wine in December, so this time next year I should have three fruit wines to choose from.

I hope they're good ones.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Windows of opportunity

Yesterday, I walked over to a neighbour's place to borrow mustard seed to make chutney. My apple tree is in fruit, so each day I'm drying, bottling, freezing, or cooking up apples for things like condiments and desserts. This week, I plan to make apple wine.

I rounded the corner to see her own little orchard shrouded in nets. Ruby plums glowed beneath the leaves on this tree; that one had apples as big as softballs. Behind them, the spindly branches of a late nectarine were lined with fast-ripening fruit.

My first thought was, how will she preserve her haul?

Apples bottled with elderberry, apple chutney,
and dried apples from this season
Time has taught me that trees have rich years and lean years. In my area, this season has been great for pome and stone fruit, as well as berries. But my apple trees have been bare for the last two years: I haven't picked a single thing.

In the world of fruit growing, when it rains, it pours, and if you don't make ice, it all just goes down the drain.

As I went in the gate, she came out the front door. "Look at your trees!" I said as a kind of greeting. "What are you going to do with it all?"

She gazed at the orchard adoringly. "Haven't really thought about it," she replied, apparently dazed by the bounty. Until now, her preserving efforts have focused on vegetables. But the realisation that she hadn't planned anything for the fruit filled me with horror.

Good fruit seasons are a race against birds and rot. You want perfect fruits, perfectly ripe, which means the window of opportunity for preserving is very short, and involves a lot of work. I reflexively offered her my dehydrator, but she looked sort of vague and said "that could be good" in a noncommittal way. A wave of panic rose up in me as I realised she has no dehydrator, no bottling kit, no nothing! What would happen to all her fruit?! What was she thinking?!

This is what's become of me after seven and a half years in the country.

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.