Winter Is Coming

Our seasons have been delayed.  A long, hot, dry, dusty summer has given way to a long, hot, dry, dusty autumn.  A strange autumn, with no rain until the very last few days.  It’s been tough here at White Stone Farm, with our dams drying and plants dying, surrounded by this brown landscape.  We’re lucky though, ours is a mere hobby compared to the ancestral tracts of land from which many farmers must carve out their entire livelihoods throughout rural Australia.  For them the prolonged dry weather has been most difficult, with feed prices sky-high, crops failing and livestock going hungry on the barren ground. When food comes so readily from supermarkets and seems so abundant, we can easily forget the physical and emotional hardships it takes to get it to our plate.

The White Stone Farm herbivores tend not to stray far from their meal during those energy taxing dry days and the prolonged dry weather has cost us more in feed than we had anticipated.

Dinner time at White Stone Farm

Our hay bales for growing, so dutifully and painstakingly collected in summer and readied for the autumn rains have stood dry.  Our grand plans to have them soak up the autumn rain in preparation for garlic planting stood unfulfilled.  We emptied the last of the dam water trying to give them some moisture so that the first stage of decomposition could take place.

White Stone Farm hay bales

We seem to be caught within a rain shadow of a rain shadow.  Clunes is reputedly quite dry and then where we are located just north of the town seems to be further shadowed by Mount Beckworth.  With our beautiful view of the surrounding volcanic landscape, we watch rain storms gather and scud across the skies beyond our boundaries.  We’re jealous to hear about the torrential rain in Ballarat, or a deluge in Melbourne.  But no amount of rain dances have brought them our way…

And then, in the final week of autumn, Mother Nature finally helped out in our dry, parched world.  The rains we were eagerly waiting on and hoping for so that we could plant our garlic finally arrived, with the skies opening up to a brief deluge to moisten the ground and refresh the landscape.  Our first 10mls was cause for celebration.  Maybe that last rain dance did work.

The light flush of green on the landscape is now taking hold, as grasses and plants rise forth out of the dusty, bare ground.  Gumboots are now out in force to combat the muddy clay and numerous puddles.  The sodden ground is slippery and you can just about hear the plants taking a big long draught of water before it disappears down the large cracks that opened up the clay during the dry!

Winter fire at White Stone FarmAll too quickly, the brief autumn rains and warm sunshine are giving way to winter.  The chill is in the air and winter is coming.  Frosts are starting and words like “brrr…minus 2 degrees this morning” have returned to our vocabulary.  The type of weather that you can pull out all those lovely, warm jumpers, long socks, scarves, beanies and gloves, get out your favourite long-johns and cosy up to the fire with a good book and a bowl of steaming vegetable soup whilst the night cools down or the rain beats down outside.  Sunset is early and night falls quickly, with us needing to dash home from work to lock up the chooks.  No detours allowed as we race to beat the setting sun and the prowling foxes and get our chicken girls safely to bed.

But it does allow us long luxurious time indoors as the early darkness closes in, time to read good books to relax and inspire, spin llama wool, weave new creations, discuss more sustainability ideas that we want to implement or go over our permaculture designs and house renovations that we have planned for the warmer months to come.

Already the garlic is sprouting, the chickens are going through their moult (although some have stoically continued to lay eggs in the colder weather – it must be all the lovely extra food we are giving them!) and the bugs are returning to the damp places beneath rocks and logs.  It’s becoming a chicken paradise again with lots of green pick to enjoy and protein galore as worms and bugs return near the surface of the moist soil.

Garlic sprouting

The herbivores are also enjoying the greenery and Jess and the llamas are full of new life that comes with the energy hit of delicious, fresh grass.  After such a protracted, hot and dry few months, it is certainly nice to look out over a carpet of green that now adorns the landscape and appreciate Mother Nature’s watery gift of goodness from the clouds above.

Newfound freedom for all

As Autumn rolls on, our baby chickens are growing rapidly.  The youngsters that we raised as surrogate parents from the incubator are enjoying the A-frame chook house that Stace built – complete with a llama to watch over them (when she’s not distracted eating grass or daydreaming!)

Llama and chook house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though our babies are growing quickly, it still takes about 5 months for a young female to start laying.  With the demand for our tasty White Stone Farm eggs amongst our family, friends and work colleagues growing, there was an increased need for more immediate layers – and fast!

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Marching into Autumn at White Stone Farm

Phew – a long hot summer is now behind us.  Scorching temperatures, tinder dry landscape, fierce winds and bushfires here, there and everywhere!  The hills and paddocks are a golden yellow of dry grass stalks or (as in the case for some of our paddocks) sun-baked earth as the new grass seeds wait for autumn rains to encourage their new green growth.

The incendiary landscape and strong winds were a real concern some days, with the car packed with valuables and important documents and fire plan at the ready should we need to evacuate.  Luckily it didn’t come to that, but there were some anxious days watching wind direction and hoping that fires burning a few kilometres away wouldn’t come racing over the back fence.  We chose White Stone Farm carefully, ensuring we are not among thick bushland (the tragedies of Black Saturday bushfires here in Victoria were still fresh in our mind when we bought the property in 2011 and served as a good reminder that being engulfed by trees can also lead to being engulfed by flames).  The property backs onto large tracts of open pasture and grassland, although grassfires can also be incredibly fast and destructive.  We kept our eye on this one burning not far away…

Bushfire

The dry spell was broken by a watery reprieve the other week, prompting some new growth to poke its green shoots through the dirt (only to be eaten by hungry chickens!) and the weeds are coming back with a vengeance! Continue reading

The Highs and Lows of Ethical Meat

One of the biggest reasons that we moved out of Melbourne and onto our own land at White Stone Farm was to be able to produce our own food.  Where food comes from is important to us.  What chemicals have been used in the production of fruit and vegetables, what sort of conditions were supposedly ‘cage free/barn laid/free range’ chickens kept in (you’d be surprised just how little area is allowed for commercial ‘free range’ egg production) and how long has that leafy green been in cold storage and trucked across the nation to get to our plate??  When you buy your produce from a supermarket, you can never be really sure of the answers to all of these questions.  And that just wasn’t good enough for us.

The same goes for meat. Top of our concerns is the treatment of animals, the conditions they are kept in and very importantly, how much stress they had to endure as they meet their maker to become made into meat.  In today’s mass consumerism for meat products on a huge scale, it requires a huge need for thousands of animals to supply the demand.  And conditions are not always so favourable. Continue reading

Poultry Politics

Our poultry are an important part of White Stone Farm.  They are our natural insect control, fertilizer makers and feathery entertainers.  (And one day, some of them will make it to the dinner table as well).

Poultry are fascinating.  The way the chickens go about their business in their endless search for tasty bugs, the way they relate to each other in the flock, maintain their pecking order, interact with the other animals, peck, preen, dust-bathe, squawk, cheep, cluck, scratch, explore and cock-a-doodle-do (for the rooster at least!) – all of that is really interesting stuff!  And it entertains us to no end!  Except the cock-a-doodle-doing at 4am…

Chicken peckOur house chooks – Avalon, Bentley (and her 2 chicks), Commanche, Delorian, Eldorado (and her 9 fluff-ball chicks), Ferrari, Galaxy and rooster Henry Ford (yes, all alphabetical and car-themed…) live in the old stables and go about their business of scratching and exploring around the house, garden and nearest paddocks.  On a hot day their favourite spot is under the house, so it’s not uncommon to be sitting in the lounge and have Henry cock-a-doodle-dooing under your feet directly under the floor! Continue reading

Move Hay While the Sun Shines

Here at White Stone Farm we are often presented with challenges.  The hot, dry summers, very wet winters, poor drainage over most of the property, heavy frosts in winter, the house that needs a bit of TLC…but one of the biggest challenges we face is our lack of good topsoil.  The farm is situated on an ancient alluvial floodplain of heavy clay, with some of the oldest soil this Earth has to offer (Ordovician soil, circa 500 million years for those playing at home…).  In winter the clay holds water, in summer it cracks and dries as hard as concrete, the clay shrinking and expanding depending on moisture content.

WSF landscape sunset

Prior to our purchase of the land, the property was also overstocked with horses, creating further compaction of the soil.  It makes for one slippery clay-ridden landscape in the depths of wet winters and is in desperate need of some more organic matter to boost the growing capacity of the land.  Phew…so glad that we like a good challenge!!  On the positive side, clay already has a number of nutrients that we can build on for our soil structure, we just need to improve the drainage and help it along a bit with some more organic matter.  Hey, at least it’s not sand! Continue reading

The Magic of Springtime

The chill of Winter is leaving the landscape and the warmth of Spring is finally upon us. Thank goodness!!  Those -2°C mornings (down to -6°C one day…brrrrr!) are behind us for another year and we can look forward to longer days, more sunshine and a verdant, productive landscape.  Even the llamas are happy about the plentiful, fresh green growth…

llama landscape

Spring is my favourite time of the year, a reminder after the dry summer and cold winter that there are ideal growing conditions to be had in this part of the world, blue sky days, clement weather and a myriad of birds filling the farm with a joyful chorus as they do their birds and the bees stuff.  Nests are popping up all over the place, birds are courting each other, plumage colours are enhanced (even our male duck’s bill gets a bit more orange and he struts around proudly!) and it’s a great reminder of the joys of new life. Continue reading

Winter wanes at White Stone Farm

With its last gusty, frosty breath, winter seems to be finally waning here at White Stone Farm.  The warmth of spring is starting, the fruit trees are in their flowery finery of pinks and whites and the pastures are becoming verdant and lush once again.  Ah Spring, my favourite month at the farm as the landscape dries out after its winter deluge.

White Stone Farm blossom

Golden rays and deep blues
White and pinks and purple hues
Heady scent upon the breeze
Will likely bring hayfever’s sneeze
But Spring is welcomed in all her glory
To help us with our White Stone story

A change in the seasons also sees a change in birdsong.  Birds quiet, hidden or holidaying somewhere else during the colder parts of the year are back with their songful presence – Grey Shrike Thrushes delight us with their whistling and Striated Pardalotes call and flit amongst the Eucalyptus trees near the house.  The Welcome Swallows have returned and are again nesting above the back door, their indignant calls berating you if you disturb them when going in or out of the house. Continue reading

What’s New at White Stone Farm

Wow – how quickly the year is disappearing!  No sooner did we enjoy the golden hues of autumn, then winter approached with bracing winds, rain and more rain, sub-zero temperatures and more rain.  Did I mention rain?  How sad the extra water tanks aren’t in yet!  But the ducks think it’s the best thing in the world – the whole property is one big swamp, just ripe for puddling around in!!

Ducks love rain!

So far, our record coldest morning was about -6°C.  The landscape was blanketed in white icicles, giving everything a lacy cover that crunched underfoot. Nearby towns had snow!  Even the weeds looked pretty in their icicle finery.

Aside from the cold, there have been some glorious days of winter sunshine, enabling Stace to get out and make some amazing changes to the White Stone Farm landscape. The rain and high clay content on the property does make anything to do with dirt or driving around the property a lot more challenging and it’s caused Stace huge frustration as he slips and slides around the block.  In future years we won’t be doing such grand manoeuvres in the slushy, slippery winter but this year we need to get lots done before spring.  Despite the trying conditions, Stace has done an amazing job at moving earth to create some innovative infrastructure and effective grow beds… Continue reading

30 days at White Stone Farm

A quick glimpse of what can happen in a month at White Stone Farm!

Recently I was asked by a fellow-blogger friend to contribute a guest blog detailing my life for 30 days.  The blogger is Christie Peucker, who has just returned from an epic year-long adventure around the globe where she did weird and wonderful things for a month at a time to celebrate and tick off her bucket list.  It’s a fascinating look at the adventure of a solo female traveller in some pretty incredible places.  Christie has now set up 30 Days – The Collection series on her website, asking people to contribute their 30 days of life or adventure – and I was very happy to contribute the crazy antics of daily life at White Stone Farm.  Read on for a taste of my month of musings.  And if you’d like to check out Christie’s blog of her amazing adventure (or help her publish a book about it!), go to: http://www.30days30years.com/

30 years = 30 days of a Tree Change

In a sudden moment of epiphany as we began our 30’s, my partner and I decided that we wanted out of the smoggy city, the hustle and bustle and sprawling suburbia and headed for the hills for a new life of fresh air, wholesome veggies, strong community, country living and a small-acre farming lifestyle.

White Stone Farm family

Within a month we were moving our jobs, lifestyles and futures to an idyllic country township with dreams of creating a sustainable farming venture and merely 6 months later buying and settling on a 10 acre property near Clunes in central Victoria.  Nestled on an ancient volcanic landscape, with huge gum trees that have watched over the land for over 500 years, we began to make our home in the rustic weatherboard farmhouse and named the place White Stone Farm. Continue reading