Friday, 29 May 2015

Perennial Leeks

Do you grow perennial leeks?  I was given mine by my mother.  She received them from a friend and thought they were garlic chives.  But no, definitely perennial leeks! I've just transplanted some this week.
I love them.  They are so hardy that they have survived here for years.  I keep them in a garden bed that receives some grey water over summer.  Some years, the grey water hasn't even been running and they still survived!  When I'm ready, I dig some up and plant them in a well prepared veggie garden to grow on.  They then receive clean garden water and, with a bit of space around, they thicken up.
A plant will form lots of little, teeny weeny baby leeks from the base after it reaches maturity.  These generally don't thicken up much until divided and given a bit of TLC.  So I can be frugal with these plants but know that they are always there when I'm ready to grow them.  Perfect.
Buddy and I got out in the orchard this week.  We are gradually attending to each tree.  They receive compost, aged horse manure and some mulch.  Is there anything else I should be adding?  I'm also planting comfrey under each tree to draw the nutrients up from deeper in the ground.  I've done this with all but the citrus because I'm not sure whether they benefit from comfrey.  I must look into it one of these days.
Yesterday Belle and I started setting up an irrigation system around the trees.  We only have a few left to do now.  We want the orchard to be better prepared next summer.  It really suffers in the heat.  With this in mind, we've planted tagasaste on the west side of each of the trees in the hopes that they establish and provide some shade.

In the meantime, Pumpkin has been creating her own mini garden as well as discovering the magic of nasturtium leaves.  My photos don't capture it well but the water turns silver and somehow looks a bit more solid.  Try it sometime.  It's beautiful!
Are you thinking ahead to next summer when it comes to your garden?  Maybe your garden is already summer-proofed.

Monday, 25 May 2015

A normal difference - a post about diversity

A conversation with Lou Lou on preparing her daughter for school, really got me thinking.  I had similar issues when Buddy began school.  Trying to work out whether to expect no issues and an easy transistion, or to prepare for difficulties and having to educate others on difference.  I took the path of winding myself up to a ridiculous extent.  I was sick with worry.  Worked well really!  The picture I'd painted in my mind was sooo bad that I was, of course, relieved and delighted at how painless it was.  It was sort of like the feeling you'd get if, while falling from a tree, you expected to break a bone but suffered only bruises instead.  However, it's not a method I'd recommend.  All we can do is hope to change perspectives until we reach a stage that diversity is truly welcomed.

We are all different.  We look different, have different jobs, hobbies, favourite foods, live in different areas with different coloured paint on the walls.  We're married, single, divorced, employed, unemployed, young, old or in between.  We have different cultures, beliefs and states of health. We spend our leisure time differently; some choose to read a book, others dine out, go to parties or play sport.  These differences are accepted and embraced.   Life would be so very boring if we were all the same.

Difference is measured by the majority so the further you stray from the mainstream the more 'different' your unique situation becomes.  And that's when it becomes occasionally problematic.  What is it about our society that it sometimes struggles to accept anything that strays from the norm?

I know you have your own differences.  Some may be large and some small.  Us too.  I used to feel unusual due to our lifestyle.  We choose to live in a way that is respectful of the environment and, with that as my goal, we didn't care if it seemed strange to some that our crockery didn't match, we had a compost toilet on the verandah (isolated property), or that I had holes in my jeans.  As a big picture issue these details were unimportant.

Happily, lately more and more people are living as we do and moving away from a world where money and possesions are the be all and end all.  I've also gradually met more people who live like us due to concerns about climate change.  Therefore our lifestyle is moving toward mainstream and becoming normalised.  In this particular case, I'd be delighted to see one of our differences become the normal for the majority of the population because lifestyles need change.  Climate change is becoming an urgent problem and needs serious action to be taken on every level, from individual households, to organisations and governments.  I'm not even going to bother searching for links to back up my statements here.  You know it's true, and if you don't, take a minute to do some basic research.

However, I don't aim for all of our family's uniquenesses to become the same for everyone.  I shouldn't need to be 'the same' to expect acceptance.  Our family has three ways in which we digress from the path most are taking.  My children are homeschooled.  My daughter is living in a gay relationship.  My son has Down syndrome.

Here's the thing.  These things are not differences to us.  They are our normal!

You have no idea how often my poor children get asked "Why aren't you in school today?"  But that's ok because people are totally unused to seeing *gasp* children  older than toddlers in our world during the hours of  nine till three thirty.  There's no malice in the question but it gets a bit annoying in its repetitiveness.  And then there are the judgements.  Are the children socialising?  Are they going to learn properly?  Are our family sure we're doing the right thing?  Umm.... no, but is any family sure?  Can any family predict a happy future for their child?
As for Down syndrome, I struggle with the balance of normal versus different.  You see, I want my son to be accepted as normal.  He is a boy first and foremost.  He's my boy.  Not my 'Down syndrome child'.  If I'm honest with you, I can't even see his Down syndrome.  I know he has features which distinguish him as having unique chromosomes.  His facial features are different, as are his rate of growth and his rate of learning.  But his cuddles and kisses feel the same.  His contributions to our family feel the same.  And his games and his jokes.  He messes his room up just the same as his sisters and gets yelled at asked to tidy it, just the same.  He is so much 'the same' that occasionally I stare at him and try to imagine how he seems through other people eyes because - I truly can't see it!!  But my struggle?  Well, while I want everyone to see him as any other little boy, I also want them to be understanding of his struggles.  Because things are harder for him.  Where other things come naturally to my girls, Buddy has to really work hard to learn them.  I have great respect for my boy who watches others constantly to learn the correct social behaviour; who has spent hours learning how to fold clothes properly because he wants to be able to fold them well; who struggles to do difficult buttons and needs my help often, while knowing other children his age don't need mums to dress them.  So yes, I want you to accept Buddy as normal while appealing for you to be patient and understanding of  his difference.  I want you to converse with him and expect him to understand.  He may understand, he may not, but he'll sure enjoy the chat.  I want you to invite him to play with your kids.  I want you to expect him to grow up to be employable, drive a car, complete adult education courses.  I want you to see him as the clever little boy that he is!  Your attitude affects his view and expectations of himself.
The 'manly' expression
Joining tug-o-war at a family fun day
As for my daughter in a same sex relationship, it is very difficult because these relationships are judged by so many in society.  Somehow people find this a threatening issue.  Lou Lou has been with her partner for years.  They have gone to a lot of trouble and expense with IVF to produce me a delightful granddaughter.  TOM (The other mother) and Lou Lou have bought a home together, keep it very well - it's much tidier than mine - made home improvements, paid bills, socialised as a family, argued with each other and made up again.  They've lived in a real relationship with its ups, downs and responsibilities.  Ella has pet cats, chooks, a cubby house and loves to read books.  She goes to kindergarten and is looking forward to school next year.  Her parents deliberate over where best to educate her and also discuss daily parenting and discipline styles.  In short, their family is so much the same as many, many families.  Most people are very accepting but those that aren't feel they have the right to be vocal.  Do they not realise the effect they could have on children from these relationships?!  These are Ella's parents!  This is her normal.  Nothing different about it in her mind.  Lou Lou talks openly about their family's differences with Ella because different is ok.  What she can't share with Ella are society's judgments.  She can't tell Ella that her parents are not legally allowed to marry.  This carries with it a message that her family is sooo wrong and her parents relationship is sooo unacceptable that even the government frown upon it and see it as illegal!  A heartbreaking view for any child that is being raised in a warm, loving and thoughtful environment.
such a little/big girl
my two granddaughters

Ella, cooking with Lou Lou
So, what do you do if you have some major ways that you differ from those around you?  You acknowlege the difference. (I don't convince the kids that Buddy doesn't have Down syndrome or that the rest of the world should home school)  Apart from that, do nothing.  Get on with your lives.  They are more normal than they are different.  I don't dwell on our differences or make a big deal about them.  They are what they are and they're really ok!  Despite my family's three main differences, we are normal, we are happy, we are all productive, contributing members of our communities.  We are also lucky to have very accepting friends and feel fully included in our friendship circles.

So what do you do if you are one of those on the outside observing the differences?  You do nothing.  You accept other people as they are.  Hopefully you even embrace the diversity.  If you really struggle with acceptance, then possibly you should do a bit of soul searching to see why you have issues with how others are living their lives.  Lives that don't affect how you choose to live yours.

While our differences can't really affect other people's day to day life, negative opinions can cause us unnecessary pressure and emotional angst while we go about our lives, living them the best we can.  Opinions shouldn't matter and deserve to be shrugged off but the nature of humans means it's not that simple.  We take things on board.  So hey - like us, love us, admire us, be our friend and we'll accept you just the way you are too.

I wonder how different your normal might be.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


The weekend at last!  I longed to snuggle further down under the covers when Hubby left for work this morning.  So warm and cosy in my bed.  But there were projects floating in my head.  They called me loudly and insistently so I begrudgingly staggered out for a cup of coffee to get me moving.

There's a freezing chill in the air this morning but the cloudless sky carries a promise of a beautiful day to come.  I've had a very productive week and today will be no different.  Once the sun is shing and the sky is blue, I will have all the energy I need to get on with today's tasks.

The projects I have on the go are many and varied.  I'm painting, regenerating paddocks, farm planning, planting while the weather's favourable, working with the children.....

Monday saw me checking the hive and robbing some honey.  I didn't measure but there were several kilos of golden sweetness.
Tuesday we went to help some friends pick their small commercial olive crop before they missed their deadline.  Three other friends also came to help.  Sadly we didn't get much done before the rain set in and made it impossible.
I've been determinedly painting our house over the last couple of weeks.  We never did get around to finishing the doors and trims when we moved in.  Once living here, we just got on with daily tasks and became so used to the unpainted surroundings that we didn't even notice anymore.  However, for some unknown reason, suddenly it's all I see!  So every day this week, I've painted a little more.
I've also dropped in to the local tip with a trailer on tow and picked up an old freezer.  Sorting a container for the chook food has been on my to-do list for a looong time but now that we're thinking of getting more chooks it's become a priority.  This freezer is perfect for the job.  I'm making my own grain mix for them and recording the costs as I go.  I'm confident that my mix is nutritious but I have a sneaking suspicion that when I add up the prices, it would be cheaper to buy the commercial mixes.

We've been to the library, picked up (and shoveled out) a load of manure and returned the trailer to the stables.  The children have played independently.  There have been shopping games, mum's and dads, doctors and even dinosaurs.  We've cared for the animals, milked the goats and Belle and I have knitted fingerless mittens to try and ward off the cold.  It's icy out there in the late afternoons!
  I've had a friend visit twice this week and twice she has helped me complete some tasks on my list.  She and her husband helped me plant the garlic last weekend.  I was despairing that I wouldn't get it in on time.  During the week, she and I planted comfrey under the fruit trees while adding compost and manure.  It's lovely to have friends that enjoy working alongside me.

The chooks are doing a lovely job in their new enclosure.  We've put them in a bare paddock on the top of the hill.  This paddock had no soil whatsoever so, a while back, we shoveled a couple of trailer loads of horse manure on it.  Now the chooks are scratching it around and adding their own manure to the mix.  We'll move them soon to a new area and put them to work again.  Our hope is that, over time we'll see the soil build up.
I know it can work.  I've inspected the area where we've been putting piles of horse manure in one spot over the last year.  Yesterday I scratched the soil around the piles.  It was definitely an improvement.  Just three metres away, where there has been no manure, I can't even scratch past the surface because there is no topsoil at all.  I will begin piling the manure there instead next week.
Near the manure pile
Existing 'soil?'
Today I will continue to paint and this afternoon I plan to take a look at a second hive which is down in the bush.  I find it hard to get to this particular hive because it's so far from the house.  I don't want to have the children there with me but I can't leave them home alone.  Hence I wait until Hubby is around, the weather is right, and my mentor is available.  It's getting late in the year for beekeeping and I won't have many opportunties before winter sets in.

I've only had a couple of attempts to beekeep on my own so far and they weren't very successful.   On one attempt the bees were very aggressive and I had two stings inside my boot which I had to ignore.  I was also stung twice on the hand.  I managed to calmly work through but didn't know enough about the bees to understand what was happening.  Normally they are quite settled.  My mentor felt it may have been due to the hive being so full of honey that they had nowhere to lay their brood.  Therefore, once I had removed three frames (all I could manage in my bee-stung state), they were calmer when we inspected them this week.

I'm very lucky with my mentor.  He has years of experience.  I've known Jim since I was born.  He was a friend of my parents and we used to visit their family when we were children.  I was lucky that I unexpectedly came across Jim and his wife in the supermarket car park soon after we bought this property.  We had lost contact and I had no idea that they lived in this area.  Neither did I know Jim was a beekeeper.  I invited them to lunch, together with my parents, and it was then I discovered that Jim worked with bees.  He's been helping me since.  It's wonderful to watch him at a hive.  He works slowly and calmly.  He doesn't even wear gloves!!!

So onward I go!  Hopefully I can get through my jobs by the end of the day and perhaps tomorrow I'll just relax.

How is your weekend looking?  Are you taking it easy or do you also have a thousand projects on the go?!

Sunday, 17 May 2015


As the rays of the sun turn golden (and I dream of photography skills yet to master) I contemplate the work we've done.  A productive day, full of small but significant achievements.

The cooked quinces hang in muslin, dripping out the fragrant juice in preparation for more quince jelly.
The electric netting fence, which I expect to be pivotal in our new system of intensive rotation, is up and running.  A basic shelter to meet the chook's needs has been completed.
A tagaste has been planted in the paddock and protected by scrounged pallets.
The Australorps have called an impromptu meeting to decide what needs to happen.  How do they negotiate this new fence to return to their pen??
The goats are in their pen waiting to be milked.  The goats savour milking time, as do we.  For them it means food and our company; for us, it means their company and snowy, fresh milk!
The geese wander in a pack, wondering exactly when they can expect some grain, nibbling at the tender, new grass as they go.
As an end to the day, I created a temporary seat in the paddock, thrown together (amongst the horse manure) with bricks and a plank.  I love it when we achieve something new and I like to sit and admire the day's work.  Satisfaction fills me as I picture, in my mind's eye, the fertile place I hope to create.  I also love reflecting on how far we have already come.  Yep!  It's been a good Sunday!

Did you have a lovely Sunday?

Friday, 15 May 2015

Lazy housekeeping

Well I never!!  Hubby arrived home from work one night last week as I was busily bustling in the kitchen preparing a meal.  He walked in the door and the first words out of his mouth were, "Gee, you've worked hard today!'
I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to stare at him.  What??!  I normally feel completely at ease with our arrangement of Hubby working each day while I stay home and teach the children, organise the house, clothes, food etc.  I know that I put in a good day's work that can easily rival Hubby's efforts.

However, on this particular day I had been very lazy.  Not sure what came over me really but I just couldn't be bothered.  The rush and tear seemed unimportant.  So the kids and I just did as we pleased.  Apart from caring for the animals, we did nothing.  No painting the house like I have been, no collecting or shoveling manure, no planting or fertilising in the garden, not even any washing of clothes.
I looked around the lounge room.  Yep!  Sure enough, the place looked great.  About half an hour before he'd walked in the door, I did my usual call of, "Put away everything you've used today."  A quick scurry around and it was all done.
Oh dear, oh dear!  How ironic.  My usual busy days create mess.  Whereas on my lazy, feeling guilty, should-have-done-more day, the house looked great.  No clothes hanging on clothes horses ( they weren't washed), no piles of unaddressed stuff on the table because I hadn't got anything out.  No kid's messes because I'd been inside to do the pack-up call.  No aching muscles, no bone tired weariness.  Just a tidy home.

So I stood there - shocked!  I didn't know whether to feel demoralised that my real work doesn't show or plan to spend more time sitting on my butt!!

Are you a mess maker too?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A time for work

The talks by Joel Salatin that I recently attended worked like a shot in the arm; an injection of energy.  There's nothing like inspiration to awaken/rekindle motivation and get the blood flowing.

I wake each morning full of energy and with many ideas of things I would like to achieve in the day.  Sometimes I even find myself outside in my nightie and slippers before I know what's happened!  The timing of the talks was serendipitous too.  Why?  This is the time of year for work.  The weather conditions for plants, the comfort levels of working and the amount of time available are all better at this time.

The summer heat has gone, it's even raining regularly at the moment.  Cool days and a gentle soaking means everything planted stands a chance of becoming established before next summer arrives.

The temperature is perfect for work too.  The days are chilly so I don a jacket, hat and scarf when I head out but I can manage some serious physical work on these cool days.  It doesn't take long before shoveling out a trailer of manure has me stripping down to a t-shirt.  In summer, I would only last five minutes before giving up.

Autumn is also more generous with allowing me time.  Spring in the garden means soil preparation, planting, fertilising; summer is for watering and heat management and extra attention for the animals.  Late summer is a crazy time of year because so many fruits and veggies are ready and need to be dealt with.  As I learn more about preserving, each summer I am busier in the kitchen.  Now, with my shelves as ready as they will be and only the promise of a day of picking a friend's olives ahead of me, I'm out working.
I've been leaving my trailer at a near-by stable and picking it up a couple a days later, laden with stinky goodness for my paddocks and garden.  I've been shoveling it straight onto the top of the paddocks.  Because we are on a hill, I layer it thickly at the top end and hope that gravity will work in my favour over the next couple of months.  I imagine the rain and chooks will help it spread further down the paddocks without much actual intervention from me.  Occasionally, living on a hill has its benefits.

Daily we drop in to the post office in the hopes that our electric netting fence, that we ordered online, will be there.  When it arrives, we can put our chooks out in the paddock to do their best work.  They can scratch and peck at the moist dirt, spreading the aforementioned manure as they go.  With a bit of luck and a little management, the dirt may transition to become a layer of actual soil in the next season or so!  Last year, I laid branches across one of the paddocks on the contours and I can already see they are beginning to hold the soil and create flatter, more grassy spots.  The addition of some fertility should make a good improvement.

Sometimes I layer the manure with straw or hay from the goat pens to create a nice, hot compost.  It makes a beautiful addition to the garden beds!

Our does have been to visit a local buck.  He's a bit of a stud actually so I wait with baited breath now, hoping that they don't cycle again.  We're hopeful for some lovely baby goats in about five months time....

I have planted tagasaste for forage and put in some apricot seeds.  These were saved from apricots we ate.  I put the seeds in the fridge to plant out later in the year.  They were starting to sprout in the fridge however, so I've sown them and made little plastic covers in the hopes of seeing them through winter.  So far, so good.  They have shot up out of the ground and look great.  I will use these as forage for the goats as well.

I've planted elder-flowers, jerusalem artichokes, and a wormwood grown from a cutting.  The wormwood is next to the chook shed as an insect repellent.  I'm hoping all my new systems are more established by next summer and that life will be easier and more comfortable for us and the animals alike.  I'm deliberately planting chook plants near the chooks and goat plants near the goats to make our work flow.

Belle and I asked Hubby to show us how to use the power drill and we're ridiculously proud of ourselves!  We made a goat shelter from pallets.  I've since collected heaps more pallets ready to scatter shelters all over our property.  Armed with my newly found power tool skills, I've also created a clothes rack for the winter months so that we don't spend all our time negotiating clothes hanging on clothes horses set up in the lounge room.  I'll hang it upstairs to catch the rising heat and the ceilings are higher there so I can raise the clothes out of my way.
Daisy overseeing the construction
I'm also dreaming of completing the bulk of our hard physical work before winter really sets in.  I'm picturing gentle days inside near the fire, crafting, spinning and cooking up winter delights to serve at the end of a short and chilly day.  I like the idea of winter being a time of rest and recuperation before the busyness of Spring and the yearly cycle begin again.

Do you find that each year follows a pattern (or rythym.....  I love the peaceful sound of that term) and are you working harder than usual now?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A Steiner special school and Organising a break from the farm

Recently, the kids and I attended a camp.  I knew I was going to like it but didn't realise what a huge impact it was going to have on me.

The camp was organised by the Melbourne Waldorf Farm School.  They are a group of Steiner connected people who are in the process of organising a Steiner special school.  It would be the first of its kind in Australia.

The vision is for the school to operate as a working farm and incorporate residential housing for elderly folk as well as people with disabilities.  I love the concept.  They are creating a place that is useful and where everyone would be involved in a very real way regardless of ability.  The way I believe the world should be.
The experience of the camp left me wishing I could be involved when the school is operational.  The days the children and I spent there were incredible.  We were immediately immersed in the most connected and nurturing environment I have ever found myself in.  We were a community of people who cared about each other by the time we left. 

There were opportunities for Buddy to experience new activities as well as felting and music and singing for all of us.  Buddy's sisters had the opportunity to part from him and each other while playing, and to meet many other children with disabilities.  Pumpkin announced on the way home that she would like to work with people with disabilities when she grows up (because they are so nice). 
The parents were nurtured and, through various activities and in-depth discussion, felt very deep connections with each other by the time we went home.  The school will be in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne; too far for us although I toyed with the idea of moving for a while.  I would encourage anyone with an interest, to get involved.  You would be welcomed.  Tell your friends and spread the word.  The families who end up at this school will be very fortunate.  The school is in it's initial stages and those who get involved will be instrumental in helping this concept become a reality.

Hubby was left at home, as usual, to care for the animals.  It's the only way the children and I have been able to go anywhere over the last couple of years.  He gets up early for work to put animals in paddocks and stays up late milking, feeding, watering, and locking up.  I was beginning to feel as though we could never go away as a family again.

A friend, who was aware of our situation, organised a three day beach trip for us and pushed me encouraged me to stop procrastinating and find a way to leave our farm.  I put the word out on Facebook and a few friends offered their services.  I chose this medium because I felt I wasn't putting anyone on the spot.  It seemed such a big ask!  This way, those who wanted to come forward, did.

With two people able to help on the selected dates, we began our organising.  I was determined to make it as easy as possible for our generous volunteer friends. 

We organised self feeders for the chooks (I usually feed mash) so that feed and water only needed to be checked and filled if low.  We made up the daily feeds for the goats in ziplock bags - yes, I know shouldn't use plastic but I was desperate to make it easy!  The goats' feeds are individualised so we labelled each bag and labelled the pens.  We even wrote a brief descriptor above each pen in case the naughty girls took advantage of inexperienced carers and swapped pens.  We labelled food containers and the receptacle (an old dishwasher put to new use) where we keep first aid equipment and minerals.

Our evening helper came over to learn to milk and be shown the ropes.  Goats' hay feeders filled, chooks locked up, goats up from paddock, buckets and washing water organised, goats milked and fed, milk strained and buckets washed ready for the next day.  She was very enthusiastic and made me feel comfortable about asking her to take the task on.
Our morning volunteer was a neighbour who has helped in a couple of emergencies and already knew the ropes.  The chooks to be let out, hay in paddocks, goats out.  Her farm is a similar setup to ours, with many of the same livestock.  She is a kind and generous neighbour who happily helped us out!  This same neighbour has come and helped when one of the goats was sick and has lent me her caged trailer when my girl goats were wanting to travel to a buck because they were looking for love.

We only had one hiccough while we were away.  I wasn't clear enough with the days I needed help and there was a morning when the animals weren't let out.  A lesson to me for next time - specify exact days!

All in all, I think we organised the care of our farm fairly well.  If you are in a similar situation, don't be scared to ask.  There are probably people out there that would be happy to help you.  Make it as easy as you can by taking notice as you go about your chores.  You'll think of ways to simplify your system for inexperienced helpers.  Make sure you prepare anything that you can in advance and make sure that you leave a contact number.

I'm sure, one day, we will be asked to provide reciprocal care and my friends will be comfortable to ask me seeing as they have already cared for our animals.  It's lovely to be able to walk away from the daily grind every now and again and well worth the effort of organising the carers.

 Happy holidays!!!