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…

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