Summer’s Fiery Blast

Just when we thought the heat of summer was waning and that autumn was on its way…a final hot day for February and out of control bushfires to deal with!

Don’t you just hate the feeling when you are sitting at work in a neighbouring town and looking out the window to see huge amounts of smoke billowing into the sky from the nearby landscape…to hear the local firetrucks roar past – those AMAZING volunteers that don their heavy yellow jackets on 40 degree days to fight the fires and try to save our landscape, communities, houses and livestock.

What’s even worse is when you realise that the smoke is from a big bushfire and with the recent wind change, that it’s headed straight for your friend’s property where your llamas and horse are currently agisted!  What follows is a very quick exit from work, a very hurried drive to get home and grab halters, ropes, woollen blankets (in case I was caught out in the fire and needed to shelter in my car), hay and treats (getting 4 unruly llamas haltered in the middle of the paddock and onto a trailer alone was going to be interesting…) and my phone and then a very quick drive towards the towering plumes of smoke for Operation Animal Evac!

Mt Bolton Fire

Adrenalin had kicked in once I got to the gate of the property and raced up the driveway.  The llamas and horse were grazing in the front paddock, so I whistled and called them to follow the car up to the shed where the trailer was located.  Luckily, I have been visiting frequently and they are used to associating the car with copious amounts of carrots and treats and all came trotting up as I hurriedly put the trailer on the back of the car.  They were all still relatively calm as the hot wind hadn’t yet shifted in our direction.

Llamas to be rescued

Lilah, my friendliest llama was the first up for treats and I quickly managed to halter her and load her onto the open box trailer.  The others I knew would be more difficult, as they have been running wild across the 15 acres for a few months.  But, with surprising speed, I somehow managed to get both Brittany and Wildfire in halter and wedged them all on the trailer.  This was a fantastic reminder as to why I got Llamas instead of Alpacas.  Llamas will come up to you in the paddock, they will respond well to training, treats, commands and halter training.  They are much, much, much easier to catch and halter in an open environment than a skittish alpaca would be.  Their domestic evolution as a beast of burden certainly comes through with the right training and I was so grateful at that moment that I had invested in training them, for there was not a minute to lose.

Meanwhile, back at the fire front on the other side of the ridge, the blaze had made it into hillside bushland…

Mt Bolton fire AJeffree

Yuki, the final llama – who was incredibly difficult to trailer load in the past and the wildest of the lot was going to be an issue.  I couldn’t fit her on the trailer – I usually only trailer a maximum of 2 llamas at a time as they like their personal space, but today I had 3 squished in there, shoulder to shoulder.  I would have to come back for her.  And somehow get her on-board…

I made the dusty dash down the driveway with the llamas all jostling and bumping along in the trailer.  As I drove out the driveway, 8 more fire engines and CFA vehicles roared past me on their way to the fire front.  Teams were coming in from near and far to fight this blaze.  I couldn’t see the flames, just the huge billowing cloud coming up from the other side of the ridge.  I hoped that they were getting it under control. 48 trucks were there already and a number of large helicopters and water aircraft.

Mt bolton helicopters AJ

Back home at White Stone Farm (which was actually only 13kms from the blaze…but a damn sight further away than my friend’s property!), I quickly unloaded the llamas.  Wildfire, not used to being crushed between the two girls had spent much of the frantic ride home spitting at Lilah, whose face was now covered in green, rank stomach contents.  Poor thing, I had no time to wash her face, I just removed their halters and turned them loose.  I needed to race back for Yuki…and had no idea what I was going to do about Jess the horse.  I don’t have a horse trailer and my friends who do were pretty preoccupied evacuating their own animals at this stage.

By this time, Stace had made it home from work and met me at the front gate of the property.  The wind had shifted and yellow-grey smoke drifted menacingly across the landscape towards us.  Poor Yuki was in a bit of a panic with all of her llama herd suddenly disappearing, but we managed to coax her over and get the halter on her.  Now for the tricky part, getting her to step up onto the trailer! I don’t know if it was her desire to get out of there, our adrenaline or the urgency of the situation, but she stepped on with relatively little fuss (compared to last time where we had to practically LIFT her 100+kgs on!!). Ok, what about the horse?  Jess was up the back of the paddock hanging out with some neighbouring horses.  We drove up there to get her as she refused to come down.  I managed to get a halter on her with minimal fuss. I couldn’t put her on the box trailer, so I gave Stace the keys to drive Yuki home and had no option but to walk the 8 kilometres home with Jess in tow. I didn’t have a helmet, saddle or bridle with me and didn’t trust that I could be calm enough bareback to ride her home safely on the roads, so we had to leg it!

It was hot, windy, a little smoky and I realised that I hadn’t eaten nearly enough lunch for this amount of energy!  Jess moseyed along, it was her first big adventure outside the gates and other than a possible horse-eating old couch on the nature strip that she eyed suspiciously, she was absolutely fine. We made it into town where a friend saw me and offered Jess a paddock for the night, until I could float her the rest of the way home.  We reasoned that the blaze was getting under control and that the town wouldn’t be at risk now and could leave her there for the night.

Jess worried fires

With all my beasts safely relocated, we waited with bated breath to see if the firefighters could manage the blaze.  By now there were 93 vehicles attending.  With their amazing hard work, teamwork, talent, grit and determination they got the blaze under control.  We could see the fires still burning on the ridge that night from White Stone Farm. Ten days later it still burned, with teams managing the blazes as they reignited or smouldered.  Without any decent rain, these amazing crews are all we have to ensure that our homes and communities continue to be safe.

mt bolton landscape helicopter ajThe sad part is that this fire – and 2 more that were alight at the same time nearby, are believed to be the work of arsonists.  The Country Fire Authority do an amazing job, dropping everything to put their safety on the line in dangerous conditions to ensure that their communities are safe. Forget the Marvel Superheroes – these men and women are indeed real life Superheroes!

We donate to the CFA every year, as we are not able to volunteer for the brigade. It never feels like enough though when you see the tremendous work that they do. If you would also like to donate to this fantastic cause, go to the CFA Website.

My fingers are crossed that this is the last of the fire season for summer.

The amazing fire photos in this post were taken by the very talented Ann Jeffree. See more of Ann’s wonderful work at Ann’s Facebook page.

Saori weaving studio in Clunes

How exciting!  My plans to open a Saori (Japanese weaving) studio at the farm have just been kicked up a notch with the opportunity to have a studio in the township of Clunes!  As part of the Empty Spaces Initiative, run by a not-for-profit organisation called Renew Australia and in conjunction with Hepburn Shire Council, I put in an application in collaboration with a couple of other artists in town to open a creative collective studio and we have just been informed that we have the space!

We are madly getting the space ready for our Grand Opening and the Clunes Booktown Festival, which is a huge weekend for the town.  How lucky that we have a studio and retail space front and centre in main street of Clunes.  The studio will allow us the space and time to commit to our respective crafts and allow us to have workshops in weaving, spinning, drawing, felting and all sorts of crafty pursuits.  Collaborating with Clunes accommodation providers, the local eateries and other businesses, we hope to attract lots of people to our gorgeous little town and help to increase the tourism revenue to keep our livelihoods going.

Prue at her new studio in Clunes

This is an exciting time.  For new passions and pursuits.  To take up new opportunities and take my Saori weaving studio and teaching up a notch.  So, if you’re headed for Clunes, look out for the Sketched, Spun & Warped studio in the main street.  Drop in and do a weaving workshop or say hello and learn more about this fantastic and beautiful craft!

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

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

In the Ground this month: Garlic!

Ah, Garlic planting season once again!  When we moved in during Jun-July last year, it was manic as we needed to hastily plant all of our organic garlic cloves in between doing renovations and trying to discover garden beds and planting space under grass and weeds.

With some wonderful help from our family, we rescued derelict garden beds and some designated planting areas and got lots of bulbs safely planted into various parts of the garden.  Garlic in the front garden bed amongst the roses, garlic along the side of the house, garlic in other random garden beds between ornamentals, garlic in rows along the fence.

The bulbs were planted carefully and tended, sending green shoots soon after planting and surviving the frosty winter.

Through spring they matured, growing taller and stronger until in summer they began to transfer all their energy to the bulb in the dark depths of the soil.  In December we decided them ready to harvest – later than usual but due to the slightly later planting season we wanted to give them enough time to nourish the bulb and produce great garlic!

Continue reading