Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The most uncivilised time in human history is now….


This man from Thailand has found an easy way to live, after spending 7 years living the hard way. It is so simple, so much how I feel, I want to hug him!

I don’t seem to live in the same world as most people I see. All those cars zooming through Cygnet, going this way and that, while I walk to the shops to get what I need, children being rushed off here and there in the school holidays, people going shopping in bigger towns for clothes that follow a fashion, people going to get some chemical food from a big supermarket, buying stuff, doing stuff, working harder so they can have more stuff and go more places…..and not have time to be happy.

No need for me to say more as he says it all, even about saving seeds!!! I feel like I know this man. How great it would be to have a relationship with someone who lives in my world!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A gorgeous day in the winter garden

I still get just as excited as ever when I spend the afternoon in my garden and see self-sown things coming up, others growing tall and strong and still older plants regrowing unexpectedly for another season. It sounds corny but it soothes my soul and brings an inner peace that I find hard to feel elsewhere.

Every year at this time it is the red cabbage that makes me smile most. It is certainly the colours and texture of the leaves but it is also the fact that several of them are approaching forming their third crop of red cabbages, with odd branches draped here and there like a small tree, and one is even older. I cut most of the side shoots off and just leave those that look most likely to form a heart. The oldest of them now only has one cabbage forming so this may be its last year. I will be sad to see it go as it has been here almost as long as I have!

The late afternoon light in winter is soft and casts long shadows through the garden. When a flash of sun appears from behind a sea of dark clouds it highlights whatever catches the late rays. Sometimes this is a deep red chard leaf or a bright yellow chard stem or the fine leaves of the lime green frilly mustard. Sometimes it is the bees on the brilliant yellow flowers of the bok choy flowers.

The sky seems enormous in winter here; I think because there are many layers of clouds; some white and shooting across the sky, others dark and menacing and sitting down on the mountains while still more sometimes seem to be going in the opposite direction, all at once. Being in the garden, feeling the breeze come up and being aware of the sky as I potter about is one of my greatest joys. I love the feel of mizzle, that unique cross between drizzle and mist that happens in Tasmania, and the way its chill feels on my lips and cheeks.

This chilly, damp air is what I came here for, from the dry air of South Australia. Mizzle brightens your cheeks, settles on your eye lashes, turns your hair frizzy and softens the light but is not quite wet enough to have to put on a jacket, which is perfect for gardening.

Everything old is new again in the red cabbage patch
Marigolds seem to flower all year round
I love miners lettuce and let it self-sow
The darkest of the red chards
This self-sown bed is now clear of weeds, fertilised with mushroom compost and chicken manure pellets then covered in straw to let the worms and microbes enjoy turning the soil for me.
Self-sown lettuce amongst the new coriander
Tools of the trade + a bucket of leek seedlings removed and ready to take to the community garden tomorrow.
Straw bale chook house I made for 2 new chooks I am getting soon
I love this wooden bucket of water for the chooks. It has azola growing in it to keep the water fresh.
Why is she taking photos of us?
Chicory would have to be one of the most beautiful and varied winter vegetables in my garden….
In winter it is brilliant in salads

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Willing Workers and a Little Ingenuity

It was a nice mild afternoon so I thought it would be good to get started on preparing an area for planting out some of my citrus, once the frosts have passed for this year. A beautiful, old willow tree had fallen over about a year ago and turned what was a shady part of the garden into a very sunny part.

The area has been totally neglected ever since so I took to it with my mattock, with the warm sun on my back. All the grass and weeds were being tossed over the fence for the chooks and they were pretty happy about that. It was quite hard work and as I rested on my mattock for a rest, I watched the chooks digging and scratching at the goodies I had tossed at them.

Then I had an idea. How about I get the chooks out here doing the work for me! How silly, I thought, for me to be doing all the work and throwing weeds, grass and lumps of good soil over the fence when, with a little ingenuity, I could put the chooks to work instead.

Off I went to the farthest corner of my acre where, in the dark recesses of an old shed lived a pile of star pickets rolled up with miles of 1.8m  high chicken wire, given to me recently by a friend leaving the state. Perfect! After quite some effort I was not sure this was such a good use of my limited time! However, I was determined to get the job done and the chooks working for me so, after a lot of swearing and heaving I managed to untangle 2 good long lengths and drag them to the desired site.

Trying to erect a fence already partly assembled and then rolled up, on uneven ground, alone is a challenge! While holding a star picket already joined to the fencing wire with one hand and my trusty mallet in the other, the rest of the 7m roll of wire and pickets wants desperately to lie down and threatens to pull it all down into a tangled mess, taking out one of my eyes at the same time.

Patience is not one of my strengths! However, on the chook yard side of the fence the weeds I had tossed over earlier were already disappearing under those well worked chicken legs and beaks and I could imagine the ease with which they would turn my patch of thick, overgrown greenery into eggs and fertilised soil. After getting down to just my t-shirt, unravelling what seemed like 100m of wire mesh, hammering in pickets that seemed very oddly spaced and dealing with an uneven slope it was finally done.

Lastly I cut a hole in the bottom of the chook fence and called the girls through. The first one to take to a new scenario is always the big brown chook and she made those noises a chook makes when she finds treasure. Immediately all the others came running and soon I was sitting outside the fence having coffee, watching the workers.

In a few weeks I will have a new garden area….. as long as the fence holds up and the chooks don’t work the soil so much they end up going under the fence and outside, digging up parts of the garden that should not be dug!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

5 organic bananas or a piece of cake

There are 3 busy cafes in Cygnet. All have lots of beautiful cakes which are hungrily eaten every day, sometimes by me. One piece of cake is around $5. No-one bats an eye lid at the price.

There is 1 organic fruit and veg shop, Cygnet Garden Larder, which is equally busy. I bought 5 organic bananas for $5. The lovely girl serving looked shocked when she told me the price.

The people eating cakes in the cafes are the same people who tell me they cannot afford organic fruit and vegetables.

These people drive 20kms to a supermarket which has chemically grown fruit and veg.

What has happened to the world?

On Cygnet Market days I like to buy organic fruit and veg from the local market gardeners who have stalls outside on the street. One of them is Alex from Golden Valley Farm. The queue for his vegetables, picked that morning at dawn, stretches down the street if I don’t get out there early enough. His produce is priced to make a living for him and his family and so it should be.

I don’t have much money but I don’t even look at his prices. I grow what I can in my garden and the community garden and buy what I need from Alex. I would much rather have the best, organic vegetables I have ever seen, from a man I know, than drive to a big supermarket and stand in a check-out queue with stuff my mother would not even call food.

It used to bother me that I was preaching to the converted when I talked about such things with my friends and could not seem to reach those that would benefit most from conversion. Now I have stopped beating my head against the wall…. or at least maybe I will soon!

Life is good. Join Alex’s queue.image


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cabbages and Convicts

We see history all around us; monuments to lives lived and lives lost. Cities brimming with entrepreneurial enterprise has made them what they are and the history of their eras is in every building, every business, every museum, every suburban street and every bridge. The everyday lives of people in our collective histories are in our minds as lives of families, villages, farms and armies, punctuated by events and remarkable individuals.

It is with quite some mental adjustment to live in a state (almost like another country, in reality) where convicts formed a great part of the white man’s history. Shipped to the other side of the world for crimes as small as stealing bread to feed a child and as big as murder, men and women thrust together in gangs built the infrastructure and were the manpower involved in businesses and life in Tasmania, at the very bottom of the world.

Today a great number of its inhabitants are descended from convicts and this itself is a deep and sometimes hidden side of family history. It was recently quoted that as many as 80% of those Tasmanians descended from convicts have never been outside Tasmania, even to this day. This makes for a far different place from the rest of Australia and a place where I feel a foreigner in some regards.

My travels by foot and kayak into the depths of its beautiful environments often leaves me speechless, for more than just the scenery; cabbages loom large! Before roads could reach these areas, boats and ships plied the seas and rivers, carrying tons of logs destined for England and the British Navy who needed timber for ship building, carrying minerals mined for manufacturing the construction of life in Tasmania and in Britain and carrying convicts to do the work. Do you ever think how they fed the convicts doing this toil, stationed in the remote wilderness?

I have been on the edge of the wild, south-west Tasmania world heritage area, mesmerized by sea eagles, grebes, dolphins and seals, by mountain ranges draped in soft sheets of cloud, by forests full of the fresh scents of wild Tasmanian plant life and then I am told that where I am standing was once cleared and planted with 5,000 cabbages to feed the convicts. Further on I am told that after serving time and gaining a ticket of leave, a convict had a very successful import / export business right here, shipping out timber etc and bringing in supplies for a town that grew to 500 people, mostly convicts. All this, where I thought was pristine wilderness at the bottom of the world.

There is a group of 3 islands just off the beach at Dover. I have paddled my kayak around one of them on a glorious summer’s day, feeling the sun on my back and revelling in the joy of being out in wild, southern Tasmania. Again my head is abruptly sent spinning when I am told that here too, on the next island, thousands of cabbages were grown by and for the convicts.

I would like to learn more about feeding the gangs of convicts and about the individuals who were the gardeners and farmers; about how they chose a site, how they managed the soil and what seeds they used. Some Tasmanian families probably are still growing cabbages and other vegetables from those seeds. I’d love to meet them and hear their stories. I’d especially love to have some of the seeds, the seeds of civilisation in Tasmania, and sow them in the Cygnet community garden.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Integration brings integrity; making it work for Tasmania

Tasmania is a magnet for rural tourism. Why? Is it because of the scenery? It certainly isn’t because of the facilities or large resorts. Is it because of the non-existent raging, city night life or sprawling shopping malls?

I rent out a room in my house on Airbnb and I meet the tourists who read my profile on the website and choose to come and stay in my old cottage on an organic, rural 1 acre in the town of Cygnet. I hear what they say when asked why they come to Tasmania. I see the streets of Cygnet literally full of tourist vehicles all year round and I have a stall at the Cygnet Market which provides most of my income because, even for a town of 1,000 locals, this market is what people want to experience.

Everyone with excess produce in their gardens offers it to the girls at The Lotus Eaters cafe who cook the most amazing stuff, using food grown within a very small circle of the cafe. It is always full of people, all year round. In winter you see people in their coats and scarves at the outdoor tables, hands around hot cups of coffee and their famous chai, because this is what they come here for, not to sit in the air conditioned environment of a shopping centre or resort. There is no view from this main street cafe, but there is more atmosphere and warmth and genuine soul than any view can give.

Then on the other side, I listen to the radio and hear how “experts” say that Tasmania needs to catch up with the mainland of Australia and provide more facilities and exciting things for tourists to do and it makes me want to scream! They say we need to build more roads, big hotels and a cable car to the top of Mt. Wellington. This is segregation; dividing tourism off from the everyday life of ordinary people and is expensive and unsustainable in a tiny, cash-strapped state.

I hear about Tasmanian agriculture and how so many fruit orchards have been ripped out or fruit left to rot because of cheap imports. I see that the major supermarkets sell apples from China, when not that long ago, Tasmania was called the Apple Isle and exported all over the world. And yet, local fruit growers have set up roadside stalls and they are patronised by locals and tourists in huge numbers as are all farmgate operations. Every road around here has properties with small groves of  mixed orchards, wood lots, a few animals and a vegetable garden. Many are new or have new owners who can see the wood and the trees! And this week has been Agfest, a rural show of mammoth proportions, visited by anyone and everyone who can get to it, from all over Australia.

The experts are segregating, not integrating. They look at figures for tourist spending in other places and think that this is relevant to Tasmania. They don’t spend a couple of weeks as a tourist in Tasmania and actually see for themselves. Tasmania is unlike most of the rest of Australia in that it is decentralised and people live in nooks and crannies all over it. The “cities” are small; the capital and biggest, Hobart, is only 250,000. It is more like south west France, with very rural villages every few kilometres. And, like rural France, that is exactly what people come to see; rural, everyday life supplying excellent quality, local goods and services in rustic villages and markets.

Everyone wants to go France; where every facet if life is integrated; ancient buildings are not museums, they are loved and lived in. Markets abound with local food and the French people themselves would not buy food grown elsewhere if it was grown locally. Rooms on farms and in rural homes are on every visitor’s list of accommodation. Every tourist to France goes to the markets and villages to see the real French way of life; and so it could be in Tasmania.

Integration means business is life; farmland has tourism in its agenda; farmers integrate ideas with neighbours, instead of competing, to provide diversification; people live and work in their own town, using the shops and services; cafes cook and shops sell what is grown locally; artists use local materials; nothing is dependent on one big industry. Using very little from outside means a low earth footprint which, in itself, is worth advertising for tourism and makes for a sustainable future. I think this is how Cygnet is developing, almost accidentally, and I look forward to the blinkered government and local authorities staying right out of it’s fabulous future!

Sydney is buying and shipping thousands of tons of sand per month from northern Tasmania for making concrete for developments. Is this how Tasmania should be making money?

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate Integrate not segregate is permaculture principle 8

                   Many hands make light work