Friday, February 23, 2018

bugs on the flowers

I don't know where I should start this blog post: With the flowers - the larger, metaphorical picture, or with me - the smaller personal one?

Okay let's begin with the flowers.

If you've been following along here for a while, you'll know that sometime last year, after about 16 years of organic farming, something inside of me felt very strongly that we had to start growing flowers. I think it was the romantic picture in my head of row after row of beautiful blossoms that initially drew me to them, but it also had a lot to do with the colours, the shapes and the need to grow something completely new and different.

So we prepared a patch and planted a green manure crop to nurture the soil, then we spaded it in, planted seeds, set up the irrigation, weeded them, visited them several times a day and gave them our energy, fertilised the soil and their leaves, staked them to help them stand upright in the weather and then we started to marvel as bud after bud began opening and our garden of green stems and leaves became filled with flowers.

Of course we were overjoyed and in love! We picked them and made posies, we gave big bunches away, we took loads of photographs of them and we even sold some.

But then, as is so often the case in farming, as soon as you think you've got something, Mother Nature comes along with her own ideas.

One day we woke up to find a cloud of tiny bugs in the flowers. We tried to shake them off, but they flew right back and landed. A few days later we noticed that some of the leaves of the plants looked eaten and in fact some of the flower petals did too.

Not the flowers!!

After 17 years of farming apples and vegetables, we've come in contact with most of the problems that can crop up and mostly know the reasons why they do, but flowers are a new and completely different story. We were starting from scratch.

So we took pictures of the bugs, we looked at them under magnifying glasses, we googled to identify them, and then we tried to find out all we could about why they'd come and how we could get rid of them.

Around the same time I discovered a bunch of people on an online flower grower forum were dealing with the same issue.

To start with we changed the irrigation from overhead to drip to get rid of the tropical atmosphere we had created. Then we waited and watched, and I worried. The online people were buying 'organic insecticide' to kill the bugs and were starting to see results, but still we waited and watched, and I worried.

After a while the joy that had filled me up whenever I'd spent time in the garden turned to dread as I encountered misshapen buds and asymmetrical flowers and more signs of the bugs making the flowers their homes.

After a week or so of expressing my anguish at our inaction, a courier turned up one day to deliver a bottle of the 'organic insecticide'. For a second my heart lifted at the thought of the imminent solution and then I looked over at my farmer boy's face and saw that it wasn't that simple: what I thought was going to be the solution was filling him up with dread. The insecticide went into the shed and we went back to watching and waiting.

The next day I noticed that the weather had changed, the humidity had gone and the insects had reduced in number. Some time after that some of the most magnificent dahlias I had ever seen opened up their great big, perfect faces. And then a whole bunch more. And I was delighted.

But then you guessed it: the weather changed, the bugs returned, I went back to the online flower farmers and saw that they were still spraying and I started hassling my farmer boy with 'when can we spray?' all over again.

Time after time I brought it up and it didn't happen. I threw at him that when there were issues with the apples we did everything we could to try to fix them - we sprayed potassium bicarbonate in humid weather against black spot, we fertilised them to make them healthy and strong, we netted them against the birds and hail, and we tried to keep the kangaroos out. But he drew the line at insecticide and the bottle of oil sat in the shed.

Looking back I'm not sure why I didn't mix it and spray it myself. I guess I must have known deep down that that's not how we do things here. It's reactive and panicky. I've also heard enough stories of farmers getting the maths wrong and killing whole crops by mixing the wrong quantities.

A few weeks into this bug story I finally understood what was going on. We were sitting in the car one day and he told me that in our recent organic inspection the inspector had asked him what our weed management plan is. 'I don't believe in weeds', he replied. 'I think that answer should automatically guarantee your organic certification', she replied. And then I understood.

Panicking and using insecticide to kill the bugs, even if it is organic, upsets the natural balance. The insects are there for a reason and we can't possibly understand what impact eradicating them will have on our environment. It feels arrogant to think that we know what effect killing some bugs will do to the bigger garden picture. Ladybugs, frogs and hover-flies predate on aphids and thrip; what happens to their populations without them? Once we start on these interventionist paths it can change our mindset and the whole way we garden. Once we believe we can control things, the quick fix becomes expensive and we get addicted to it.

Let alone the fact that the spray we bought is certified organic for use on flowers but not on food.

So like the cabbage moth caterpillars on the cabbages, the slugs on the lettuces and the slater-bugs in the strawberries, I've come back around to plucking off those I can, researching gentle, kind, natural methods of control and trying to be patient and accept. To trust Mother Nature and hope that this crazy wind blows them away.

Which in a very long winded way brings me back to me. Despite continuing with the meditation and starting on Valerian tablets I'm still not sleeping well. The past few days have also found me feeling overly sensitive and weepy. But instead of heading down the path of prescription sleeping tablets which I have been tempted by so many times, I've decided to trust my farmer boy's theory and be patient, look for the kind and natural solutions, remember that the four other women in my family also suffer from sleep issues, and hope that this crazy wind that's going to blow away all the thrip, takes my grumpiness and sleep issues with it.

Oh my goodness, I did not intend to write an essay. Are you still with me? Does the metaphor work? 

I think I need to end this by stating very clearly that I'm DEFINITELY not judging farmers who deal with their weed issues as problems or their bug issues by spraying; or people who respond to their sleep issues with medication. We are all about balance here and believe that it's okay for everyone to draw their own line in the dirt.

Just quickly to end this off because it's fun -
I'm reading The Language of Flowers, my dear and thoughtful friend Delia sent me and so far it's beautiful.
I'm still knitting the back of my Mirehouse sweater.
We've just finished watching and loving Better Things (thanks for the recommendation Abby x).
I'm listening to This Is Criminal podcast.
And I'm hoping that our girls come home from school happy and calm for the weekend.

What about you?
How are you feeling? What are you hoping for? Dreaming of? Sleeping remedies?

Sending love and a bunch of imperfectly perfect dahlias.

See you next week.

Love, Kate xx

Saturday, February 17, 2018

a punnet of possibilities

Hello honey bunches,

How's your week been?

Let's do a run through of some of what's been going on here, in the last little bit of summer.

Picking - Jersey Mac and Abbas varieties of apple from the orchard.

The Jersey Macs have been a bit spotty to sell, so I've been cooking them and dehydrating them for later. The Abbas's look, smell and taste pretty perfect. Hopefully we'll open the farm gate stall in the next few days and sell them to the passers by.

I'm so excited that we're here again. After a whole season of hoping for the right weather conditions, after netting and irrigating and fertilising and mowing them, after months and months of watching the blossom, the fruit buds, the fruit set and the fruit growth, after weeks of slicing and squeezing and taste testinging, apple season is here!!

I'll be posting the details of what we have for sale and when on my Foxs Lane Facebook page, on the Daylesford Organics Facebook page, on instagram and here. So watch these spaces and please come and try them for yourselves.

My dried apple ring recipe is here.
My fruit leather recipe is here.

Knitting - the back of my Mirehouse sweater.

Ravelry details here.

Reading - my mum's library copy of My Absolute Darling. Woah! It's been a while since I've read a book that I cannot put down. This book is dark and intriguing and incredibly painful. At 80 pages in I still have no idea where it's heading but I'm in for the ride and I'm hoping there's a glimmer of hope somewhere along the way.

Listening - to the This American Life podcast. With so many brilliant podcasts available these days, I found I left TAL behind a few years ago when many episodes were repeated and then others seemed overly political or irrelevant to me. For some reason the other day on the way home from school I decided to have a look at what some of their current shows are about and I was pleasantly surprised.

I loved the first piece in Words You Can't Say.

And I really enjoyed Rom-Com.

Arranging - brightly coloured bunches of summer flowers to sell, to give away and to dot around our house.

Pulling - the biggest onions I have ever grown out of the ground.

Meditating - !!!! I've always had this belief that there are those who can and those who cannot. I unfortunately fall into the latter category. I'm too fidgety to sit still, my mind speeds up whenever I try to slow it down, I feel jittery and anxious whenever I attempt to, and so I don't.

I also don't sleep. I've been suffering from such a severe bout of insomnia lately that I don't even know what to do with myself anymore.

I eat well, I exercise, I try to deal with stressful situations, I garden, I don't drink caffeine after the early afternoon...but still I don't sleep and it feels I'm running on empty.

So a few days ago, I agreed to my farmer boy's suggestion to give meditation another go. And because I'm pretty good at following along with apps (that couch to 5km one, the drinking water one, the period tracker one...), he suggested 1 Giant Mind.

We've done one a night for the past four nights. I'm interested in the fact that this style of meditation allows my mind to wander, it allows me to be a bit fidgety and it doesn't make me feel bad if I forget the mantra, as long as I effortlessly come back to it.

Over the past few nights I've still lain awake for hours at a time, but I feel like I've turned a corner. Like things are slowly improving. Like I'm not a complete crazy zombie (still a bit crazy zombie though). I'm going to persevere with the meditation and hope that my sleeping continues to improve. I'll let you know how I go.

Appreciating - the past lives of things we have inherited.

This trestle table belonged to my grandparents and lived in their garage. Every time there was a festival or an occasion to seat more than their dining table accommodated, a few family members would bring the wooden table up, lay it on its metal legs, cover it with a crisp white tablecloth and then set it with heavy silverware, white china, vases of flowers and then course after course of delicious meals. Now that those times have ended, sometimes I miss them so much that it hurts to think about them. Often the memories make me smile too though. What I would give now to take my place with my sisters and cousins and parents and friends, to tell stories and laugh, to eat, and to look up to the head of the table at my grandfather gazing lovingly at my grandmother. To have his big hands delicately roll me up a pancake or peel me an orange. I miss them.

Now that trestle sits in the centre of our new sun-room. Even though we bought a big slab of wood with a history all of it's own to build a table for that space, I can't seem to let this one go. I don't want to put it away for special occasions. I want to be reminded in our everyday. I want to bring them with me.

Emptying - my overall pockets and noticing the things I've collected along the way.

Watching - the eucalypts burst into a blaze of red flowers, listening to the bees in a frenzy drinking nectar from those fuzzy little cups, wondering what my farmer boy has planned as he snips bunches of the red blossoms and carries them into the garden, loving him and his concentrating posy making face, feeling happy every time I see that vase full of summer loveliness sitting on the coffee table for all to see and admire.

Listening - to these two writing a song together.

Planting - broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beetroot, lettuce, cabbage, leek, kale...

Discovering - new flowers in the garden.

Last year in very early spring I got addicted to buying those $2 punnets of flowers from the nursery. I had decided that I wanted to grow lot of blooms this season, but being so new to it I didn't really know where to start. So I grew most things from seed or bulb, but then I discovered the punnets.

Each tiny tray had six or eight little bunches of greenery with a colourful label on the front. They felt like a bit of a head start and weirdly a bit like buying lollies. Each time I passed, I chose a punnet with a pretty looking flower on the front and brought it home. I had no idea which of the colours would grow or if they would grow at all. Eventually I ended up with quite a selection and planted them at the front of many of our garden beds. Watching them pop open their colourful faces over the past few months has been such a treat.

These Asters have been the latest. Just last week they were all still tightly closed buds in a sea of green foliage. And look at them now! I'm not actually mad on their smell, or that PINK!!!!! But I have loved watching and guessing and discussing, every single flowering plant that I bought back when it was freezing cold last year, often as a reward to myself for doing the school run in the rain or wind. I hope there'll be different ones for me to choose from next season.

As well as all that I'm eating the summer sandwich my farmer boy just brought me - feta, tomato, pickled cucumber and basil, I'm listening to Jazzy playing Stand By Me on her ukulele in the other room, I'm reading a little story I wrote about seasonal eating for a magazine about the Daylesford Macedon region in today's The Age newspaper, I'm wondering where Pepper is and what she's up to, I'm missing Miss Indi who I haven't seen since last Tuesday and I'm getting interrupted every few minutes by text messages from Bren with quotes from Barbara Kingsolver about writing.

What are you up to? What are you eating, reading, planting, thinking, watching, hoping....
Are you meditating? Sleeping?

I hope you have a gorgeous weekend my friends.
I hope the sun shines on your smiley face.

See you next week.

Love Kate x

Friday, February 16, 2018

a bunch!

I can't blog today!

This morning I faced my fears and visited the orthodontist for some teeth issues I've been struggling with lately. I really don't like people looking in my mouth and have been worried bout the experience and the outcome for weeks now. But I'm happy to report that it was fine. Bren came in with me, the orthodontist was lovely and explained the issues and the treatment options simply, and I left feeling 100 tonnes lighter than when I went in. 

It's crazy how big I built this problem up to be, and in the end it just isn't.

Why do we let these stressful things hang over us for so long?

After wards we took the wiggly way home and visited Lambley Gardens and Nursery for a walk around and a little bit of retail therapy (flower buyers anonymous anyone), then a sandwich in a bakery and back home in time to do the jobs and wait for the girls to arrive.

Rather than rush this now, I'll write properly tomorrow.

I hope you have a gorgeous weekend.

See you tomorrow.


Friday, February 9, 2018

catching summer

I've got the picture in my head that I keep going back to. It was about 10 days ago, it was just before dark maybe about eight o'clock, and we were in the car my farmer boy and I, driving around the farm on the road and through the paddocks. The air was still, the night was warm, and the sting of the summer sun was slowly disappearing behind the tallest trees of the forest.

He was driving. And stopping often to clean the filters, check on the irrigation, feed the dogs and chooks, and see how the apples were sizing up and ripening. And as we drove my left arm slowly danced outside the car window, catching summer and that wide and endless feeling.

I remember we weren't talking much, we do this drive every night and sometimes we do and mostly we don't. It's just nice to escape the chaos of the house for a while and be together.

'I think I'm happier now than I've ever been in my whole life' I blurted out as we drove past the newly planted sunflower patch. 'I feel like I'm more authentically, honestly me than I can ever remember being. Like my skin fits and I feel comfortable wearing it.'

And I didn't mean that kind of happiness that is short lived, giggly joy. I could have called it satisfied or honest, but it felt bigger and more worthy than that. It was more of an underlying positive feeling about where we live and the way we've chosen to live. It was about nature and love and creativity and time.

In amongst that feeling there are the day-to-day disappointments, annoyances, frustrations, loses, successes, proud moments, worried moments, and general highs and lows. But running underneath all of that is this calm feeling of good. Of right.

As we drove on to his parent's house to pick some plums I started to get nervous about admitting this stuff that I'd been thinking about for a while out loud. What if I jinx it and get hit by a truck tomorrow? Talking about the big, good, lucky stuff doesn't bother him. He encourages it. It's the dark what if's that he can't do. So I took back my truck fear and kept it to myself. And at the same time I made a big decision there and then to hold onto this feeling, to fight to protect it if I have to and to guard it with my life.

And I knew challenging times were ahead with the start of the school year and the fading of summer into autumn and then winter. But if I've acknowledged that feeling won't I be able to access it when I need it? 

Ten days later and although the sun is most certainly still shining and warming up the soil and my heart, the small stresses of life feel like they're piling up; thrip in the flowers, an extremely hormonal daughter, a big landscaping decision to be made, a dreadful bout of insomnia, kangaroos ripping the apple nets, a dog escaping, a dog dying, pump issues, bird issues, a house that needs a clean from top to bottom, a crazy full family diary, expectations, overwhelmations (haha), not enough hours in the day and too many at night...I could go on but I'm sure you get the picture.

But underneath that annoying pile is that warm summer's night. And so far, if I stick my real left arm out of my imaginary car window and slowly dance it through the evening breeze, I can take myself back there. I can reclaim that feeling. It's mine.

I'm hoping that putting it into words and publishing it here will solidify it even further.

And as well as all of those fancy hand dancing moves, I'm picking basket-fulls of cucumbers every day to eat and to pickle.

I'm admiring the flowers my farmer boy is arranging and scattering around the house.

I'm loving this view through the garden to our house.

I'm becoming more and more frustrated with blogger for dulling down my photos that look so sharp in Lightroom and on my computer and so out of focus here. I wish swapping over to a new platform was that easy.

I'm dead heading, and weeding, and planting, and wondering how many more sunny summer days we have left .

I'm finally admitting that the potted colour I bought late last June has got to go.

I'm reading my Dad's library copy of The Family. Woah, such crazy stuff.

We're watching Waco. Do you see a bit of a theme emerging here?

And I'm still knitting the front of my Mirehouse, maybe I'll get a chance to make a start on the back this weekend.

It just occurred to me that those people who email me every few weeks to let me know that they're reading through my blog from the start to now must be rolling their eyes at this one. Without trawling through my archives I'm pretty sure that - holding onto the long, sunshine filled summer days as autumn and crazy school routines draw near - must be a pretty common theme around Fox Lane.

But then again everything about my life is seasonal; the plums in the dehydrator, the school picnic this afternoon, the tomatoes waiting to be turned into sauce, the mad scramble for glass containers with lids for freezing produce, the smell of honey in the air, the mud wasp nests, the blackberry scratches on my arms, the empty laundry basket, the basil pesto, the cabbage moths, the thistle flowers, the broken drip lines, the sound of crickets... I wouldn't want it any other way.

How are you going anyway?
What's the flavour of your season?
Are you hanging on tight to this time right now or counting the days til the next?
If I ever did move blog platforms, would you come and find me?

I hope you have a wonderful weekend my friends. Ours is bound to be filled with lots of preserving, homework and gardening.

See you next week!

Love, Kate x

Friday, February 2, 2018

third day photo

It took us three days to get the first day of school photo this year.

On the first day, Wednesday, the early wake up and rush out the door was such a shock to the system after the long summer holidays that everyone was way too grumpy for me to even suggest it.

Instead we all five of us bundled into the car, drove all the way to the big girls' school, sat through their morning meeting, and then the other three of us spent the rest of the day wandering through The Garden of St Erth in the rain and the wind. 

We had such a lovely time. Miss Pepper grabbed the map and took us on the tour stopping at each significant tree and pointing out all of the plants she knows the names of. As mixed family farmers who barely get a chance to look up from the spot we're weeding, it's such a gift to look through another garden. To notice how cleverly they've interplanted vegetables in amongst their shrubs and flowers. To observe that the forest they're surrounded by, is the same as ours and how the garden nestled into a corner feels like a lush oasis. To see how seamlessly they've incorporated structures like arches and benches into the gardens without making it look old and formal. To recognise some plants and to be completely unfamiliar with others. To discuss our garden and how we can incorporate perennial borders, under-tree plantings and paths through the bush.

On the way out we bought some flowers, of course, and I satisfied my need to have more echinacea plants in my world. 

The big girls had good days too which was a bonus.

I didn't have any luck getting that 'first day photo' on the second day either.

Miss Pepper was straight out the door early to pick flowers for her new teacher and her new principal, but someone else had terrible period pain and then it just got too complicated. Instead my mum took the big girls off to school and we went to Pepper's first day assembly. And then coffee, and then home to the quiet we had been imagining for days.

Only it wasn't quite calm, or relaxing. The fierce wind that had blown in with the cool change a few days before had knocked over so many of the plants and everything needed tying up and staking or composting.

After that we went through and picked the cucumbers and tidied up the (still unripe) tomatoes.

All day I felt restless and agitated and couldn't work out if it was my way of adapting to the demands of the new school year, if it was the super moon and its accompanying winds, if it was the irritating insects that we're having problems identifying who are eating our precious dahlias, or if it's just because - no reason, no conclusion.

But all girls came home from their second days happy. Indi drove half way home from school, we picked a box full of plums, we went for a walk through the forest and to my great surprise, everyone was in bed by ten o'clock.

And then guess what?!

On the third day I got my photo. A few actually.

This year Indi is in year 12, Jazzy year 9 and Pepper year 5.

This morning they took me by complete surprise and came into the kitchen chirpy and happy. All three at once. So of course I grabbed my chance, shoved my new flowers at them and snapped photos as they made silly faces and posed. YES!!!

After that I drove them out to school. On the way home I listened to a podcast without any interruptions (!!) and then sat with my farmer boy in the sun-room reading in silence.

And so it begins: the timetables, the alarms, the driving, the homework, the organising, the watching the clock, the after school activities, the meetings, the emails, the juggling, the 'what's for dinner?', the checking the family diary, the bed times...I hope I can keep up, I hope I can stay on top of things, I hope I can be everywhere I need to be, I hope I can find some time for me in there somewhere...

I hope that they learn a lot, I hope that they love a lot of what they learn, I hope the world opens up to them a little bit more, I hope they have lots of adventures, I hope they find ways to cope with difficult situations, I hope they are patient and kind and are met with the same, I hope they find opportunities to lead and be led and above all, I hope this year is a really, really good one.

And just quickly before I go;
I'm reading - my mum's copy of The Break by Marian Keyes
I'm watching - (well actually watched and loved) - American Folk - The Movie
I'm listening to - the Modern Love podcast
I'm eating - new season's Jersey Mac apples, so close now
I'm hoping - that the wind dies down so I can plant all of my new flowers in the garden this afternoon
I'm cooking - plum leather in the dehydrator from the foxslane archives
I'm knitting - the front of my Mirehouse

Just before they left for school this morning Pepper asked me to consider changing my blog day to a Monday so I'm not still writing when the weekend arrives, Indi suggested I write this blog about the ever elusive first day of school photo, and Jazzy put on a funny voice and recited some of the questions I would probably end with.

So here they are - to be read in your silliest, posh voice.
Do you have a first day photo tradition in your family?
Do you think it still counts as a first if it's on the third?
(It just occurred to me that this is the last year that there'll be three in the first day of school photo. Woah! Now I'm especially glad I persevered.)
Do you have any other start of school rituals?
Do you miss them when they're gone?

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Bye now!

Love, Kate x

ps I have the words 'unapologetically herself' written on my hand in pen. I read them this morning in a chapter of my mum's latest manuscript and cannot let them go. How good!

Visit my other blog.