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!

 

under the applegum

finding our faraway tree

milkshake and crochet

julian

noah

Fu

Noah and Julian

Julian and fu

upside down

looking up

crochet hook

pakkun

bark stripping

tasty

peaceful pooches

on the quilt

sunlight

under the applegum

front door

sunbeam

so twisty

down to the faraway tree

Early Friday morning, we sat on the porch, third coffees on the table between us, me with my crochet, Julian with his moleskin, and we brainstormed all the things we’d love to achieve around the farm over the weekend.  Then we marked off the most important seven for Friday and set to work.  It was mostly a day of orchard planting.  The raspberry patch was finished off – 5 metres long by 2 metres wide, thoroughly dug over with old duck bedding, liberally seasoned with the neighbour’s horse poo, edged with timber and secured with a nice deep row of poultry netting, steel hoops and black netting.  Nothing can be left to chance around here.  If the ducks don’t get in with their destructive flat feet and jack hammering bills, or the rats and rabbits eat it down to a 1 inch stick, then the rosellas and king parrots annihilate every last bud. We’ve learnt the hard way.

Then we planted plums, pomegranates, peaches, blackcurrants and gooseberries.  At the moment the whole thing looks like a graveyard of sticks with a half dug pond piled with dirt around the edges.  Nothing to show off for sure.  But oh, when I look down from the kitchen window, I dream of what it will look like in a few years time.  The pond will be deep and full, edged by water plants with a lovely rock wall at one end, and ducks and geese cheerfully swimming round and round the water lilies.  Those fruit trees – including the already planted apples, pears, hawthorn and almond will be tall and blooming.  That raspberry patch will be glistening with fat juicy berries.  And off to one side will be the lovely wooden rotunda that Julian and I plot every time we stand amongst the fruit trees – a handmade octagon with no railings but wide steps leading into the orchard from each side and tall roof thickly covered in wisteria. Mmmmmm …..

Anyways – that was Friday’s list.  Yesterday’s was filled with niggledy little tasks that needed finishing off as well the building of a proper, functioning compost system, and the relocating of the sheep.  A big and busy list, that one, but oh so satisfying to tick each thing off.  And last night – when I looked out and could see our five dear sheep on the other side of the house fence – it felt just right.

This morning, we sat at the table with our third coffees and ambitiously checked off the next seven items.  We may even have said “And once we’ve done all that. we’ll start digging the next 10 metre long raspberry patch.” Yes, I ordered 20 more canes (on top of the 10 we planted Friday) and they’re arriving this week – eek!

First on the list … weed whack around the new sheep fence.  But by the time we got down there, we were already discussing number 2 – move the goat tethers over to the field next to the sheep so that they’d have plenty of shade from the nearby small gum grove.  We wandered down amongst the gums to pace out where we needed to start.  The grove was delightfully cool but sun speckled and the kangaroos have been doing a sterling job keeping down the grass.  It was almost the grove of our dreams.

Our talk turned away from weed whacking and goat tethering to … if we cleared this bit here, got rid of that clump of bracken, dragged these logs up to edge the herb garden.  Next thing, Julian was weed whacking in an ever increasing circle around the huge central apple gum whilst I raked and made bush turkey styled piles ready to be carted off to the bonfire.  We plotted where we would put a rustic wooden table and benches.  We ooohed and ahhhed about how lovely it would be to sit down here on a hot summer’s day with jugs of iced lemon and mint water.  I dreamed of slipping away to wile away the hours with needles, wool and books.

Then, pushing all thoughts of lists and chores away, Julian weed whacked us the perfect path back to the house where we made icy cold banana milkshakes, dug out the picnic quilt, coaxed Noah away from his laptop, and returned to the applegum.

Julian shook out the quilt and we all plonked down.  Through the trees, green fields dotted with cows, rolled away to the north, and mountains loomed to the west.  A spider scuttled across the quilt and Noah caught it in his gumboot – he says it was the first thing that came to hand.  A pair of kookaburras sat above us in the tree, cackling away.  Pakkun tried her hardest to share our milkshakes whilst Fu snuffled about in the grass, and the nearby sheep mooed.  I stitched away at my granny bolster cover, and Julian stripped the bark away from a narrow log he plans to turn into a tamper handle (pond digging stuff)

It was blissful and as I looked up I realised we were really sitting under the Faraway tree!  I pointed out the little doors and porches to Noah and stared up into the sun kissed, twisty turning branches wondering what Silky and Moonface were up to.  I don’t know that Noah was quite as bewitched as I :-)

I adored the Magic Faraway Tree books when I was little.  I read them over and over and over and wished, for the umpteenth time, that I could live a life as wonderful, mysterious and magical as the children in Enid Blyton’s books.  You know, I daresay this was the start of my passion for the English countryside.  It was patently obvious to me that the grand adventures of the Famous Five, the Adventurous Four and of course Jo, Bessie and Fanny could never happen in Australia.  You clearly had to be in the English countryside to camp out in abandoned castles, capture smugglers, rescue kidnapped European princes, and spend lovely days up a tree with the Faraway Tree folk.  Sigh.

And as I sat under our beautiful Faraway Tree, I realised that it was never the promise of that magical land at the top of the tree that really drew me into these books.  I even remember skipping over those bits.  What I truly loved were the homes the funny little people of Faraway Tree – and later, Roald Dahl’s Minpins and Mary Norton’s The Borrowers – created.  The cosiness, the warmth and welcome (mostly), the nooks and crannies, the corners filled with fascinating items, and especially the fabulous make do philosophy they all embraced as they built their wee homes, turning other people’s cast offs into the loveliest of belongings.

I didn’t care about running around in Candy Land or whatever had zoomed in that week.  I longed to peek into little sitting rooms, and take tea by the fireside with people whose lives revolved around the dear little homes they had built all by themselves.  I wanted to live there with them.  I wanted to build my own home just as lovely and creative as theirs. And I wanted them to come visit me.

Forty years later, and I don’t believe I’ve changed one bit :-)  Here we are, Julian and I, building our little home bit by bit.  Weekend by weekend.  Making use of what we find, what other people cast away.  Building it by hand.  Making it so utterly descriptive of just who we are, what we love, and what’s important to us.

Making it cosy.  Making it welcoming.  Making it creative.  Making it ours.

 

now thats more like it

julian laid an egg!

a frame

the real things

geese on the move

the log

getting off the bark

very rough

little bit egg shaped

chisel

awestruck

now thats more like it

out it pops

give it a polish

all done

Oh my goodness!  I have always thought that my Julian was the bees’ knees and a right clever clogs.  But since he brought home his father’s lathe … well, just call me blown away and even more besotted with my lovely man and his endless hidden talents :-)

So here we are, winter is fading fast and spring pushing its way forth.  Our fruit trees are covered in wee buds – you should have seen the almond tree – covered in dear little tightly furled pink buds which the wretched bloody rosellas ate yesterday – aaaaargh! The days are longer.  The bread rises oh so fast.  And the geese are laying eggs.

See, geese only lay once a year.  Well, you know, they lay up to eight eggs over a period of a couple of weeks.  But they don’t lay at any other time.  Like wild birds, they only lay to reproduce.  And our dear girls – Madonna and Francesca – are slowly and carefully adding more eggs to their clutch in the little A-frame house.

We originally built that house for the ducks, but they outgrew it quickly – in size and number.  So we thought the geese might like it and filled it with lovely fresh straw.  Alas, our geese are wilful and dreadfully hard to herd, and so have never slept in there.  Oh no, they insist, every night, on sitting out under the moon and stars, their heavily feathered butts on the freezing ground. Even in the pouring rain and relentless wind.  Bizarre! Which leaves them susceptible to foxes and that means we have to keep the unsightly orange plastic electric net fence up.  Oh well.

But then we began to notice Madonna and Francesca disappearing into the A-frame for hours on end whilst Guiseppe stood guard.  Such glee! I checked many times over the first few weeks – nothing.  Until one morning, there was a HUGE, heavy, perfect white egg.  Naturally, I now – when the geese are up at the pond (very depleted – there’s been no rain for a couple of weeks) – crawl in and inspect their nest for new eggs.  And every few days, yes there’s another one buried deep in the straw, as cold as ice.

We haven’t yet decided how to proceed with this.  Clearly we would love goslings – we bought our trio of Pilgrim Geese as breeders for future meat birds.  Goose for christmas sounds marvellous indeed!  But we don’t know whether to leave the eggs where they are and let Madonna and Francesca have a go at hatching them.  Or pop the eggs into an incubator and see how that goes. Hmmm ….

Of course we don’t want to distress the geese by taking their eggs and making them feel that the A-frame is unsafe and therefore no more eggs for us!  And the plastic eggs you can buy at the ag shop are a very small substitute – I don’t think the geese would be so easily duped.  So Julian decided to turn some eggs.

This morning, he hunted through the wood shed to find a good bit of tree trunk.  And, completely bewitched by the idea of that lump of rough dark wood turning into a smooth egg, I set up a garden chair in the doorway to his workshop and watched with bated breath.

It was magical!  I know people can create exquisite and intricate things with wood lathes and this is just an egg.  But I had NO IDEA my dear man could do this!!!!  Oh the possibilities ahead of us!  I foresee wonderful candlesticks and lampbases, wooden bowls, table legs, staircase rails … all made from the trees on our land.  And of course eggs.  I think there will be many more eggs. How awesome is that!?

Julian carefully liberated his finished egg from its wooden uterus (hee! hee! hee!) and I gave it a quick rub with some lovely fragrant beeswax.  Julian worries that the geese mightn’t like that smell – oh well, that means I can keep this egg and he’ll just have to get to making more for the geese!

Truly, I think this is the most precious and beautiful egg I’ve ever been given.

the 1st XI on Boxing Day

Ha! Ha! Ha!  Without doubt, only the locals will have a chuckle over the title of this post :-)  But when we realised – well, it was just a sign that it was meant to be!  (The Boxing Day Cricket Test is played at the MCG each Boxing Day with each team fielding 11 players.)

geoffrey the proud father

Julian and I were lying in bed, Boxing Day morning, exhausted from the appalling heat of Christmas Day – the temperature did not drop below 30 until after 2am! – and I’d managed to pull a muscle in my neck/shoulder (I think it was from letting a very sweet patient with broken ribs repeatedly pull on my hand to help him up into sitting position on Christmas Eve) – looking on Gumtree at the livestock available.  It’s one of our favourite pasttimes :-)

And I said “Hey!  There’s 8 Orpington pullets for sale at Cockatoo – with $5 roosters! They sound good.  It’s so hard to buy good chooks – we really need to snap ’em up when we see them!”

Much to my amazement, Julian replied “Absolutely!  Let’s send them a text and see if they’re still available.”

Oh my goodness!  I was gleeful with excitement.  No Boxing Day let down here – if we could go pick up a lovely flock of pullets and a few cockerels it would be just as fun as Christmas morning!

Julian sent the text and I kept looking – goats in Orbost, peacock eggs in NSW, no sheep anywhere, but gorgeous Alpacas here, there and everywhere.   Within minutes, Mrs. Orpington replied.  “Eight pullets available and as many roosters as you like!  Come by around lunch!”

Oh yes please!

guineas in the garden

very friendly sophie

lemon verbena

baby guinea pig

their birth home

turkey egg compost

Well – it was so much more magical than we could possibly have imagined!  The best Boxing Day EVER!

Mr and Mrs Orpington were the loveliest couple.  They have a lovely permaculture establishment – chickens and turkeys roaming around the property.  2o odd guinea pigs tearing around the fabulous large hoop netted gardens – 3 metres high, with about a 9 by 20 metre perimetre – they were hysterically cute – used for cultivating the raised garden beds and keeping down the weeds.  One hoop garden is for vegetables – the other larger one is full of fruit trees.  And their lovely deck was covered in pots of vegies all ready for transplanting into the guinea pig tilled beds.

We stayed over 2 hours.  They shared so much of their knowledge and experience – and we invited them up to Wombat Hill Farm.

We packed 7 pullets, 3 cockerels and 1 little unknown into a very large plastic dog kennel (I picked it up from hard rubbish – washed it out, dried it well and filled it with fresh straw) in the back of the car and brought them back to Bootville where they’ll spend just 2 weeks in the rabbit/guinea pig aviary before moving on up to the farm. Their initial job there will be to till the vegetable beds – Julian’s making them movable A-frames.

But before too long, he will hopefully have their permanent home ready.  A nice little house on stilts with a deep litter grilled floor and ramp, in a fenced field about 30 x 40 metres, with plenty of shady Apple gums – just in front of the house garden.  We’ve even planned where we will put some nice outdoor chairs so that we can sit in the shade and watch these lovely chickens grow and roam.
temporary house

huddled

teenage feathers

dust bath

ginger and black

under the water bowl

so many pretty feathers

amongst the butts

fus intrigued

And Fu’s going to have to learn how to be as respectful and obedient around the livestock as Mr. and Mrs. Orpington’s lovely Sophie dog is.  It’s going to be a steep learning curve, that one.