A Cool Reprieve

Oh, how wonderful this summer has become.  While we steeled ourselves for the baking heat, oven-like conditions, lack of water, dry and dust…Mother Nature instead has given us a beautiful reprieve of cool temperatures and rain.  Blessed be this unusual summer where every day feels like spring!

Sunflower artichoke

December and January both had their share of showers, rain to penetrate and soak into the ground, to still the dust, sustain the plants and seep into our water tanks. To replenish and renew the landscape when everything was getting ready to die.

Our usual plan of Operation Lock Down, to go into Survival Mode, hide away and conserve our energy from the heat outside has been unnecessary.  Beautiful cooler days have allowed us to continue working outside on the house.  Our newest project, now that Stacy has some days free from work, is to finish cladding our ramshackle weatherboard home.  Long gone is the ideal of building our passive solar dream home at the back of the block.  That dream faded after the first year when we realised just how windy and difficult that part of our property can be. Instead, we have decided that this little weatherboard house can indeed be our home and can be retrofitted to increase its thermal mass, jazzed up, insulated, clad and lime rendered to look like one of those gorgeous lil’ houses on the Greek islands.  Our Greek island house to go with our inland Mediterranean climate.  We;ve already painted the windowsills in Mykonos Blue (yes, that’s a real paint colour!)

Stacy house cladding

Not only has the weather helped our struggling plants, but also our mental well being. It’s so nice not to be hot and bothered. To have enough energy and enthusiasm to get outside and get lots of projects done.

I’ve watched friends lament the rain and weather of this inclement summer in Melbourne. For ruining their picnic or curtailing their trip to the beach.  For us it’s a blessing, the loveliest summer that we’ve had here yet.  A wonderful chance to squeeze more into our busy year when we would usually have to down tools and hide.

Our water saving measures are still working well however.  Our grey water system – a series of two IBC tanks that filter the water through sawdust and then charcoal, is working beautifully.  The reed beds that have been planted around it and the pumpkin planted on top has erupted in growth!  And clear, nice smelling water comes out the bottom. Tada!

Grey water system

Who knows how long this reprieve will last.  All we know is that we are very much appreciating it, the animals are definitely enjoying it and we are making the most of it while we can!  Now, time to get back out there…

The Drying of Summer

Golden Brown, golden brown

The landscape’s wearing its golden gown

Makes me frown, gets me down

I miss the green in this golden brown.

Summer landscape

As Summer descends, the landscape colour and demeanour is changing. The greenery is disappearing quickly as the weather heats up and the air dries out.  The rolling hills and pastures of the ancient volcanic landscape take on a golden hue; a yellow descends over the landscape until the only faint smudge of subdued greenery shows amongst the eucalyptus leaves.  From the verdant green of spring, we move into a dry, hot, dusty, yellow landscape of summer.

It happened even earlier than I expected this year.  Our Big Event of the Year – our long awaited DIY Country Wedding here in the volcanic landscape was supposed to be awash with verdant green rolling hills.  I had planned for early November to take advantage of that greenery and the nicer weather…but they evaded us.  But, it still made for dramatic pictures and a stark contrast with the golden grass instead.

Prue & Stace wedding

Summer in our new landscape often brings with it a certain depression for Stace and I. We’re forest people – we originally hail from the tree fern abundance of cool temperate rainforest.  Our property is starved of greenery in the summer months, the baking heat and high winds evaporate moisture until you feel like you are in the desert.  As temperatures soar into the mid-40’s, we go into survival mode at White Stone Farm.  Our aim in summer goes from abundance in spring to SURVIVAL… to keep things ticking over, keep things alive and hydrated.  Plants, chooks, llamas. Just keep everything from expiring in the heat!

When we encountered our first summer, it was a big struggle. We didn’t realise how hot and dry it got out here.  We had planted 50 tomato plants and not only was I working full time nearly an hour away, I was trying so hard to keep all these plants alive on a scarce water supply and had limited time to keep things going on the hot dry days.  It was hard, but we persevered and to be honest after all that effort, the tomatoes were absolutely amazing, but it was a huge struggle to keep things ticking over when we were barely here.  We just didn’t understand the challenges summer sets here.

The second summer was perhaps even harder because we knew the heat and hardships that awaited us. I would look with envy at other places in Victoria (or the world!) that have milder summers, microclimates, shade, cooler temperatures, less wind and we’d question why we were in this place.  A hot, dry depression hit us again.  Our water situation was a little better because we had installed more water tanks, but it was a very dry summer.  The rains had stopped well into early-mid Spring and the land was volatile.  That summer was pretty tough.  Our dams dried up completely, the silver perch we tried to establish died. The fear of bushfires crept into our psyche, particularly mine as I was alone at the farm a lot during that time as Stace worked in Melbourne.  We questioned ourselves again…were we in the right place?  Was this all too hard?  Did we bite off more than we could chew?

The summer of 2014 was another hot and dry one.  But we were no longer surprised and steeled ourselves to mentally and physically cope.  It is what it is.  The heat saps you of strength, willingness and enthusiasm.  But, we rise to the challenge, we overcome the obstacles and we managed to keep everyone alive and happy in the heat!

One of the biggest lessons these summers have taught us is that as the seasons change and go through these big extremes, our understanding of the landscape and this environment is also changing as we continue to experience it.  The first principle of permaculture is Observe & Interact – to take the time to really understanding what goes on in the landscape, across a number of seasons.  How do they differ?  What does each season present as challenges and rewards?  Our dawning realisation is that we have wild extremes here.  Winter is very cold and frosty and summer is incredibly dry and hot.  The soil goes from waterlogged in winter to massive open cracks in summer.  It presents challenges but it also encourages adapatability and understanding.  Appreciating each season for what it does present.  With the hot dry environment, we managed to dry a heap of waste barley mash from the local boutique brewery to use as chook food.

Chooks and barley

The hot and dry environment means that we can dry food really easily such as tomatoes, herbs to enjoy in months to come.

Where once I used to lament the lack of grass and bare, dusty paddocks that surround our house, I now rejoice in seeing the sparse paddocks, because our grass fire risk is minimised.

Llamas in summer

Sure, it takes some different ways of working and make sustainability more of a challenge.  Additional hay needs to be procured from the farmer next door to keep the herbivores fed if all the grass has dried and died,we need to scrounge the local supermarket to get green scraps for the chickens each day, we pick our battles on what we will and won’t grow and our normally outdoor working hours mean that we hide away in the seclusion of our house in the middle of the day.  We like to think of it as a Spanish siesta (which usually involves close association with a pedestal fan and Scrabble!).

And we appreciate each season for what it brings.  We have stopped asking ourselves if we are in the right place.  We KNOW we’re in the right place for a myriad of reasons and we rise up to the challenge of overcoming these tough seasons and showing how others can do so too.  Let’s face it, our world will continue to dry.  Temperate areas will become increasingly drier and we need to know how to adapt to those changing situations. Growing food doesn’t just occur in the wet tropics or on perfect properties and landscapes of abundance – it happens right here, during punishing summers, droughts and harsh landscapes.

We’ll just forge a path through the dust, heat and haze and then show people how it can be done!  Watch this space…

Something summery this way comes…

From our lovely days of spring, the weather has now starting to warm up as summer gets into full swing and give us a hint of increasing summer heat to come.  The temperature climbs higher – mid 20’s, 30 degrees…mid 30’s…in the heat of summer (around now) the mercury will reach into the 40’s again and scorch our landscape.

The landscape held on to its last vestiges of verdant finery for quite a while.  The greenery. Oh how I love the greenery before the scenery changes to golden yellow and browns.  I love the rolling green hills of the volcanic landscape, the freshness of the growth, the flowers and abundant water.

Rose at White Stone Farm

I hold onto the wonderful memories of these mild spring time days, of longer light and activity, before heat of summer saps our strength and makes things too hot and horrible to do much. Before we switch into overheated survival mode!  Lots of opportunity to train llamas, spend time working with Jess, get stuck into weeding, watch the plants grow vigorously, harvest garlic, bask in the sunshine whilst out and about among the veggies and watch chickens grow. Often it means that we don’t sit down to dinner until the sun has gone to bed, eating at 10pm (very Spanish of us!), with little time left to do much after that but put ourselves to bed…but it certainly makes us appreciate all those daylight hours to get stuff done!  The animals and plants seem to enjoy this last bit of productivity too, with the horse and llamas relishing the extra grazing period and lazy days in the sun before the grass turns completely dry.

Wildfire and the girls

With the arrival of good friends over summer, comes the opportunity to get the llamas out and about on a trek through the landscape as we prepare for our Llama Luncheon treks in the near future. As the llama girls grow and learn, it’s really good to get them used to walking with a number of different people as we go on these walks – and it’s getting much too difficult to walk them all together by myself these days!

A trek through the landscape is always fun! Owen and Karen, our regular visitors and wonderful friends from Sydney enjoy spending time at the farm and helping us with the llamas.  Owen and Brittany have a very special connection and she absolutely loves it when he comes to stay.

Owen Brit Prue & Lilah

Wandering through the volcanic scenery with the llamas is a quiet and relaxing way to appreciate the scenery, keep fit and enjoy the peace and solitude of the country.

Heading out on a llama trek

As we wander along the llamas are inquisitive and enjoy the experience, the new sights and smells, the wildlife, the sunshine and the company.  Often Brittany will start humming happily in her llama way as she walks along.

Llama trekking with Owen and Karen

And Yuki tries to stop to eat every step of the way…with so much hay around, it’s a wonder we actually get anywhere at times!!

Yuki and balesAfter a lovely amble with the llamas there is always time for llama kisses at the end!

Llama kisses with Yuki and Karen

A big thank you for Owen and Karen for spending time with us this summer and helping us out on the farm!

So, who wants to come along next and join us for a llama trek??