my late summer kitchen garden

cot pieces

goose corner

corner

sprung

digging for poos

fancy lock

pumpkin

the prettiest pregnant belly

watermelon

zucchini

garden bench

corn

blueberry hedge

chickpeas

guinea pig grass

hard at work

pumpkin bed

sweet peas

salsify

shadows

cow poo

cowpoo tea

waddling ducks

You may have noticed that, for years, I have described myself as a passionate sewist and knitter and quilter etc. etc. but have always added “… and pretty hopeless in the garden”.  Well folks … that remains true!

Sometimes this mystifies me.  Both sets of grandparents and my mum are brilliant gardeners – with the grandparents producing most of their vegetables.  I surely did not inherit their green thumbs or innate knowledge of what to do with that soil and seed.  And we had wonderful soil here at Wombathill Farm – dark and rich and hummusy with plenty of earth worms – I was sure that all I would need to do is hurl the seeds in and voila!  A kitchen garden would appear.

Alas this has not happened.  My first efforts, this time last year, were regularly trampled by the doggles and ducks.  What was left was gobbled up by a nightly invasion of bush rats and rabbits.  So we tried little fences around each bed – not helpful.  Then we netted the beds over metal hoops.  Stopped the marauders but also made it very tricky for us to access.  The veggies grew up through the netting thus trapping it into position and efforts to harvest the tomatoes, brocoli and beans resulted in the tearing of plants.  Hopeless!  So then we ditched the hoops and mesh and Julian built a fence around all the beds with a sweet old door.  This has created a lovely space – very secret gardenish and I do love closing that door behind me and spending hours pottering over my beds – however, still no veggie success.

I have planted bed after bed after bed of seeds.  Carefully reading up on the likes and dislikes of each plant.  Digging and composting and mulching.  And watching in dismay as my lovely hummusy soil has turned into powdery cinnamon and very few of those seedlings have sprouted.  I have 3 corn plants.  Five zucchini.  Two cucumbers.  Seven chickpeas.  Three surviving salsify – after I mistook their very successful germination for an invasion of grass and ripped them all out!!!!!  I think a couple of beetroot have appeared.  I’ve yet to see any silverbeet.  Oh there’s 3 watermelon.  And a fabulous pumpkin vine for which I can claim no credit – the guinea pigs planted it and I don’t even know what kind of pumpkins they are!  None of my raspberries produced anything.  My blueberry hedge has survived – so that’s a win.  As have my sentinel olive trees and cornering crepe myrtles.  And I think every one of my sweetpeas have sprouted – too which Julian responds “but can we eat them!” But it will be a miracle if the coffee plants survive.  And there’s no sign of the radishes or carrots.  Sigh.

Why such failure!?  Well, I’m hoping it’s not complete idiocy on my part but probably a dire lack of water.  All those aforementioned kinfolk – apart from Nanny and Grandad’s few years on Mt. Tamborine – have grown their lovely gardens with the on-tap assistance of TOWN WATER.  Us?  We are currently limited to two rainwater tanks.  And when there is no rain there is no water.  There’s been no careful sprinkling of seeds to keep them moist and encourage their feisty germination.  There’s been no early morning water to help everyone make it through the very hot days we’ve had.  Nup.  My poor, carefully chosen seeds are clearly laying in their beds of dry cinnamon thinking to themselves “well we ain’t putting any effort into popping up out of the ground if there’s nary a drop to drink!”

Sigh.

I called into a Canberra Bunning’s recently and made a quick dash to the plant area to ooh and aah over the loveliness – you should have seen it, it was huge and thriving and awash with water! Everything was dripping and glistening.  There were puddles on the ground.  I could feel the water in the air.  I didn’t know whether to cry or gasp in delight.  Yep, it’s fair to say that this summer I have developed an overwhelming appreciation for the life giving properties of water.  I stood there, absorbing all the damp loveliness, green with envy!

However, there’s no point sitting back with a pout and deciding it’s all too hard.  We WANT to grow our own food.  Surely, just as I learnt to knit and quilt and sew etc., I can learn to garden.  And the water?  Well, we just have to put in the infrastructure to catch and use more.  Next week, a local dam builder will hopefully drop by, survey our two small dams and come up with a plan for making them bigger and maybe even adding another up closer to our house.  Then Julian will set up a pump to carry that precious water up the hill to a third newly order tank and we can then use that to water the garden and orchard with the most water conserving sprinkler system we can find.  And Julian has wonderful plans for creating swales to catch and guide the rainwater as it runs down our hill, directing it into the dams and future orchards.

Until then?  Well, I shall keep slipping down into my garden, closing the door behind me, brewing my cowpoo tea.  Pulling out the weeds.  Ooohhing and aahhing over each wee seedling that finally uncurls its head.  Sweet talking the pumpkins and blueberries.  And you never know, I may even eventually prove equal to those guinea pig gardeners of mine!

 

polished

when the rain came

fire

digging

surveying

with shovel

african

polished

with cows

testing it

rearranged

A few weeks back we were treated to a torrential weekend of rain.  It began on the Friday afternoon and thundered down, non-stop, until Monday afternoon.  Oh my goodness, there was so much water.

Now, as a Brisbane girl – who also lived in Malaysia as a child – I thought I knew rain.  I love a good storm that stealthily appears on the horizon, turning the sky an eerie gold-green, before launching massive rolls of thunder and cracks of lightning, then torrential rain that turns your street into a creek within moments.  Yeah, yeah, I know and love that rain well.  But it’s over and done with within an hour usually.  Sometimes, if it’s arrived early enough in the afternoon, you can even enjoy a freshly washed blue sky and dazzling sunset before the moon rises for the evening.

But this rain – almost 72 hours of constant, drenching rain.  No.  That, I have never experienced.  It was delightful on Friday evening as we built the fire to roaring, tucked all the animals up safe and dry in their houses, and settled in for a cosy night of knitting and good television.  It was even adventurous on Saturday morning when Noah and I layered up and ventured over to Quaama for petrol, veggies and milk.

Saturday evening was beginning to feel a bit like we should have prepared the ark and as Sunday morning dawned – with a solid grey and plummeting sky – the novelty was definitely wearing thin. It was especially thin when we realised the pantry roof was leaking … onto our kitchen appliances.  The goats were pissed off.  The chickens were glum.  The guinea fowl had given up trying to make the best of it and were so hunched up they appeared to have lost their necks.  But the ducks and geese?  Rain is like crack to them.  They go truly insane.  They spend every outside moment running, splashing, darting their beaks into the sodden earth.  They ADORE it.

We humans were OVER it.  All the roads around us were flooding.  The ground was like walking on a sodden dish sponge.  Doing the animal chores was a drenching and depressing affair – by Monday morning I just did them in my underwear and gumboots.  No point soaking another set of clothes – and yes, I had been wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella!  Water was pouring out of the tanks’ overflows.  And we were having to replace the  buckets and towels in the pantry every couple of hours.  And what did the weather forecast say – oh you haven’t had the worst of it – that’s still coming!

Yep, Sunday night that rain was so loud on our tin roof it was hard to stay asleep.  And I hated thinking of all our animals – just as damp and soggy as their bedding.  All night I dreamt of big dry cosy barns – like in Charlotte’s Web – with solid wooden walls, high impenetrable slate roofs, dry dusty floors, separate little cosy stalls for all the animals, each with a lovely pile of warm, dry, sweet smelling fresh straw. Argh!

But as I staggered out of bed on Monday morning, my spirits as low as the sky, I reminded myself that this too would pass.  The skies were predicted to clear by mid afternoon.  The animals were all still healthy and whole.  Everything would dry out.  So, instead of frittering away another day, I decided to embrace my inner Rhonda and give the house a huge deep clean – and even throw in a little re-arrange.  Alas, the re-arrange potential here is as small as our house, but I still give it my best shot :-)

Julian went out to dig at his pond – with his ever faithful assistant and most unlikely farm dog ever – Fu!  I scrubbed the bathroom from top to bottom.  Washed and polished all the wooden surfaces.  Polished the silver trays and art deco coffee pots on top of the kitchen dresser.  Refreshed all the little Ostheimer corners and filled vases with feathers and gum.  Each candleholder was filled with new candles.  I scrubbed the stove.  Vacuumed and mopped the floor.  And then with my ever faithful rearranging assistant – the fabulous Noah – moved my sewing and computer desk into the far corner of the dining room and the crystal cabinet into the prime spot opposite the dining table.  We even dusted all the crystal!  And as we moved – and created ever more dust – Noah attacked with the vacuum.

It was brilliant.  We totally reclaimed the day.  We embraced our little home and made the most of it, rain or not.  Julian gave the ducks and geese their best day on earth ever – and because the ground was so sodden, was able to really get into building up the walls of the pond which had become very hard over our long hot summer.

By the end of the day we were all tired and sore.  But the rain had stopped.  The animals were indeed drying out.  The last applied towels and buckets in the pantry were still dry.  And our house shone like a new pin, no longer feeling like a damp and untidy hovel.  The homemade furniture polish I’d used – coconut oil, vinegar and a dash of rose geranium essential oil – added a lovely soft scent to every room.  The firelight and candlelight made all the wooden surfaces and silver gently gleam.  We all felt a sense of productive satisfaction.

All was good and peaceful.

And next time such rain is predicted, I know just what to stock up on, just how to prepare – and just how to enjoy it.

let’s be still

 

bench ends

close up

under the oak

snacks

julian

olives

dubious

crackers

alway so connected

hopeful

on her perch

every vantage point

hungry

funny little chooks with their feathers not yet in

so patient

After 3 lovely days of rest, today was back to work.  There are only 15 days until the removalists arrive and sooooooo much to be done.

Today, Mum and I headed off on quite the cross country trip collecting cast iron bench ends. Yup.  Cast iron bench ends.  Julian has a thing for antique cast iron and Mum and I have a thing for these bench ends – they remind us of the girls’ boarding school we both worked at – there were many scattered about the main old building for the students, both as benches and single seats.  So Julian’s collecting the ends to make Mum and I single seats which we will plonk at the loveliest spots around the farm.

After hours of driving and bench end collecting, we came home to car packing.  Another favourite occupation.  Each time it’s a cheerful challenge to see just how much we can squeeze into the back of our station wagon.

This time was pretty epic – after a few hours work, Mum and I (with a little help from Julian) managed to shove in an antique cedar meat safe, an Art Deco bookcase, a farmhouse style set of shelves for the wall, 3 sewing machines, umpteen quilts and cushions, a desk lamp, a vase, a huge glass bottle, all the glass bottled dry goods from the kitchen mantelpiece, the vintage electric jug collection, a suitcase of lace, a bosu balance ball, a vintage bird cage, a medicine ball, the canning pot, 2 deep fryers (one for candlemaking), a set of bamboo steamers, a wine rack, a huge kettle that used to belong to St. Mary’s that I have romantic dreams about boiling up on an open fire after our friends and family have gathered to make apple cider on a crisp autumn afternoon, a 4 kg medicine ball, 2 boxes of lego (that fitted into the birdcage), several paintings, 8 little Ikea boxes of patchwork projects, 4 little boxes of American girl clothes …

I’ve almost certainly missed things but it was an impressive effort.  And cross fingers it will all arrive safely.

So tomorrow morning, Mum and Julian head off – they are taking Julian’s motorbike up.  Well he is.  Mum’s following so that they can drive back to Melbourne together on Tuesday.  Isn’t she such an amazing Mum.

Meanwhile, I’ll be enduring another week of night duty with almost certainly packing and errands during those brief wakeful hours in the late afternoon.  And Noah will be packing and meeting up for fun times with friends just as all young people should when they’ve just finished school.

But right now,  I think we just need to gather under our beautiful oak, in summer’s setting sun, with good food before us, doggles waiting hopefully at our sides, dear little Orpingtons bustling about behind us, and plenty of giggles and silly conversation.

Yes, let’s be still.

 

what’s going on up there!

peaches on the big tree

:: an abundance of peaches on the old tree ::

our first fig

:: two tiny figs on a very new tree that is struggling a bit to get going ::

so many oranges

:: such a plethora of tiny oranges that if they all grow up
they’ll pull over their slender mother ::

spotty apricots

:: hidden apricots, close to the verandah, all slightly spotty ::

peaches

:: peaches on the tiny dwarf I planted on a wintery afternoon ::
grapes

:: an absolutely glut of grapes – both here and smothering our verandah ::

apple tree

:: thriving apples – we planted them the weekend we “settled” ::

julian digging

:: through the kitchen window, past the rose, Julian’s marking out his pond::

growing pond

: oh and it just grew and grew and grew –
he’s determined to have ducks swimming there by fall ::

pruning

:: the queen of pruning
– there are so many roses, she will never be bored ::

building a little drystone wall

:: Julian dreams of dry stone walls
– good thing we have an abundance of Bega Valley stones ::
saving lizards

:: a rescued local ::

passionfruit and blueberries

:: a mixup of a bed –
roses, blueberries and a passionfruit ::
strawberries

:: our “first” bed of hopefuls –
strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, fennel, basil and marigolds –
oh, with a blackcurrant shoved in on the side ::

Julian’s company writes software to measure things.  They measure air and water temperature, humidity, movement, energy consumption – all sorts of things.  And they make wee devices that gather the data.  These live in hospitals and hotels, apartment buildings and airports, shopping centres and schools.

Now they live at Wombat Hill Farm as well.  All three of us have our phones set up (thanks to Julian) to receive live data – “as it happens!” – regarding what’s going on at Wombat Hill.  We can tell you the temperature of the bedrooms, the humidity in the pantry, movement at the front door, whether or not someone is walking through the living room …  We can even track it on graphs :-)

But despite being the occasional prompt for comments like “Well that’s it, someone’s broken in and is relaxing in the living room!” (we’re not sure what the movement really is – house moving when there are sudden shifts in temperature? A bird bumping in to the sliding glass door?”) Or “Oh I wish we were sitting on the verandah up at the farm!” Or “Blimey!  It’s bloody hot/cold in the bedroom!”, we have very little idea of what is going on up there.

Without doubt there will be animals pottering about – kangaroos come every evening to feast on the grass in the top paddock, wombats snuffle along their trails late at night, rabbits boing about all over the place.  Birds of prey circle majestically over head, keenly watching for potential meals and then diving like a flash to snatch their unfortunate victim.

As for the pretty birds that make their nests in our trees!  Well, they’ve eaten all the cherries and are probably cracking the rock hard nuts on a native tree in the cottage hedge as I write.

Our neighbour’s cows and their calves will be mooing about the fence line.  A far off bull will give the occasional bellow.  Another neighbhour’s horses will occasionally be heard down in the gully.

We know there’s lots of grass growing – oh my!  Last time we visited the cottage garden grass was literally up to our knees.

But what we really wonder about are our little first efforts at growing our own food.  Now this has mostly taken the form of fruit trees.  Since that first weekend, we’ve planted apples, mulberries, peaches, almonds, oranges, blackcurrants, figs, blueberries, and a passionfruit.

We’ve even popped in a gingko tree – I have wanted one ever since reading The Witch Family to Noah when he was little, and the two friends could see a witch perched in the gingko tree outside the mother’s bedroom window, peering in at them whilst they drew.

We lament this year’s cherries, apricots, nectarines and peaches that we’re not gobbling up, juicy and fresh from the trees, and bottling for the coming winter, and wonder if there’ll be a single piece left for us by mid January.

Julian dreams about the pond he has started digging.  It is an epic undertaking – he intends doing it all by hand – sees it as a meditative form of exercise and intends putting in a couple of hours each morning before the sun really warms things up.

See he watched this Youtube video about water channeling on small farms … you should watch it – it really is fab! …

… and now wants to divert the tank overflow into this pond – which we will use for ducks and for watering the vegetable beds – and then channel it on further to other future enterprises.  In fact, he wants to dig several!

But this first one, well it probably has to be by hand because there are only human sized gates into the cottage garden – every other inch of the perimeter is hedged with tall, thriving bushes and trees.

In a few weeks time, he’ll be digging again, but now, down here in Melbourne we are wondering what it looks like – has the rain softened the edges and made a mess? have the clods of turf he’s turned hardened in the sun? have the rabbits discovered it and dug some new burrows through it?

And now – after weeks that have alternated between lovely drenching rain and scorching heat, we wonder how our first wee garden bed has fared.  We know it was silly to put things in, but it was just irresistible.  Walking from the front steps down the path to the garden, there had been an overgrown patch of succulents – they were horrid, smelly things.  Mum dug them all up but that left a rather unsightly patch of nothing much.

So we dug around a little – and discovered it was full of big rocks.  Well – Julian became obsessed and simply every rock he met, had to be dug up.  One of them became his Moby Dick – it was HUGE and HEAVY and took HOURS of work with the crowbar.  Many a time I felt sure he’d give up but oh no.  By George, that rock was going to move and eventually it did.

However, that left an even less appealing spot, so we dug and dug some more, and reshaped it all, and Julian made his first attempt at a drystone wall to terrace the bed into the upstairs and downstairs, and then … well, we couldn’t help ourselves.

When Julian visited the weekend before last, it was looking good and growing.  Hopefully it will still be going okay when we return and we may even enjoy a few tomato and basil salads!

Only three more weeks.