On Hot Days Add Water!


“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.” 
~
Laura Gilpin

There’s a heatwave moving slowly across Australia this week.

That means you’ll find us near the water. River, ocean, swimming pool. Any and all of them.

All our birdbaths are full, and we’ve added extra saucers and bowls of water on the ground for all of the critters who will be affected too.

If you’re in affected part of Australia please remember to stay hydrated, to keep your pets cool and hydrated, and to check on elderly family members. Heat waves kill more people that storms and floods, and they do it silently.

Much love to you, Nicole ❤ xx

Hay, Hay, Hay – it’s a drought!

“Without water, life would just be rock.” 
Anthony T. Hincks

 

It’s been a strange winter. I can count the number of really cold days on my fingers. Mostly it has been as warm as spring, and sometimes warm as summer. No-one jokes about global warming anymore. It’s here, and the evidence is all around us.

In 2015, in response to rising baseline temperatures at our farm we pulled out an entire heritage citrus orchard that could no longer tolerate the increased UV radiation and heat that has become the new normal in Byron Shire. We’ve slowly replanted with native food trees and tropical varieties of traditional fruit trees. But it’s all a glorious experiment.

The plants on our farm this winter don’t seem to know what to do – some are flowering, some dropped a few leaves, some have leaves dropping and new leaves growing and flowers trying to bud all at once. Birds have nested early or haven’t started yet. Some of our trees have produced two fruiting cycles instead of one, and both of them out of season. Nature can’t seem to settle into any kind of normal rhythm.

The deep frosts that were once a normal part of our winter have become occasional, and not enough to kill the weeds, ticks and other pests that would normally be decimated and controlled by a period of intense cold. Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are rampant, affecting humans and animals alike. It’s worrying. Meanwhile the rising ocean temperatures mean that sea creatures like the Irukandji jellyfish with its deadly sting – once known only in tropical waters – are slowly drifting south and may end up here within a few years too.

Our farm a few months ago, when there was abundant rain and feed.

Around us the neighbours’ farms are already flogged. Winter is our hardest season – dry and cold enough that the grass grows slowly if at all. Feed for livestock always runs low in our district by winter’s end.

Here at our organic farm we have paddocks locked off and we cell graze, rotating our herd through each paddock one by one to give the pasture time to rest and for the grasses to set seed and rejuvenate and the native wildlife to have their habitat too. Looking after our soil and the grasses, plants and animals that create biodiversity and habit is important to us. We still have feed, and we maintain a smaller herd than we could carry for the size of the land, but we don’t want to use the paddocks that are closed off for rejuvenation. When you graze everything down to nothing it can take years to regain that natural biodiversity of species. We’re fortunate to still have that luxury of pasture management. Many farmers have not a blade of grass left and have been feeding out for months or even years.

Looking after our herd is important. They will be used by other farmers to restock their own land and to breed from. These are good bloodlines that we carefully nurtured over years and preserved at great effort during that last big drought.

We’re worried about the summer ahead. Already we have a bushfire plan, and we’re thinking about what we can do to keep our farm green, well watered and fire hazards to a minimum. We’re thinking about how we can help the trees, the bees and native wildlife. We’re planning for hardship if our district ends up going back into drought as much of the rest of Australia already has.

Yesterday we bought a truckload of hay from a farmer we know an hour south of us. They’ll be delivered later this week but we hauled one bale home with us straight away to feed out to our girls – big round bales of dried bluegrass that can nourish the cows and spring calves if rain doesn’t come soon. Our plan is to still try and keep some of our pasture locked off until summer to protect that seedbank and nurture the revegetation we’ve worked so hard to create.

The hay might end up being mulch for our orchard and vegetable gardens too. Everything suffers in a drought. Having endured eight straight years of severe drought back on our old farm we are keen to be prepared, and if necessary to rethink everything. We can’t do another stint like that again.

We’re doing our best to strategise, to think ahead, to plant and grow food that works with the prevailing conditions. Here’s hoping we get at least some of these adaptations right. We also bought hay yesterday to gift to struggling farmers and do our bit to help keep them on their farms. We’ve been in their shoes, and we know how soul-crushing it can be and how isolated and desperate you can come to feel.

Meanwhile here’s a little happy news – our latest addition, a baby male calf that a friend’s son has named Li’l Onion (Eli’s four and thinks of impossibly crazy names for things!).

Sending much love your way, Nicole ❤ xx

PS – Australian farmers are doing it tough right now. Whether they are growing crops, managing dairy herds or raising livestock many of them are struggling from prolonged drought and extreme weather events – and their struggle is relentless. If you’d like to help here are some ways that you can:

Drought Angels

Aussie Helpers

Lions Need for Feed

Salvation Army

 

 

 

 

Crazy Wild Weather!

“Suddenly all the sky is hid
As with the shutting of a lid,
One by one great drops are falling
Doubtful and slow,
Down the pane they are crookedly crawling,
And the wind breathes low;
Slowly the circles widen on the river,
Widen and mingle, one and all;
Here and there the slenderer flowers shiver,
Struck by an icy rain-drop’s fall.”
~James Russell Lowell, “Summer Storm,” 1839

 

It’s been so droughty-dry and unseasonably hot here at the farm. There have been storms but all of them have gone past us, leaving us with light shows in the sky, heavy winds and only the smell of rain.

The grass has turned dry and crunchy under our feet. Great cracks have opened in the ground. The dam has a few scant inches of water left amid the waterlilies struggling to stay viable.

Those dry storms have kept us busy – interrupting our power supply again and again, downing trees, stopping our landline phone and internet from working.

Last night we finally attracted a storm that had everything – wind, hail, lightning, thunder and most importantly rain.

Our internet’s down again. We’ve got broken branches littered everywhere. The ground is a carpet of leaves thrown down by the elements. The air is cool and smells sweetly of earth and moisture. There’s lots of mess to clean up.

Me? I’m blogging in the car, on the way to coffee with Ben and Cafe Dog.

The last of the rain is moving through now, and then it should fine up to a bright hot day before more storms again this afternoon. But we know that this kind of unstable and disruptive weather pattern is here to stay. So we’ve made some big decisions.

We’re just finishing the last of a massive solar installation that will see us self-sufficient for power and with a diesel generator for back up just in case.

We’ve got new internet providers coming to the farm to fit us out for a better system instead of relying on ancient phone lines that stop working with any hint of moisture.

All these storms have forced us to rethink and adapt.

What big changes are you making in your life right now?

It’s time.

Rethink. Adapt. Get ready to do it differently for 2017.

Adapting to Change

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“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”
― Martin Keogh, Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World

 

Yesterday at our farm we marked the end of an era.

When we bought this place there was an old overgrown orchard on the hill up behind the house. When we’d asked the previous owner what kind of trees they were he’d been offhand. Oranges, he said. Just old oranges. They cropped every year, he told us, and he let the fruit bats get most of them. How many oranges can you eat, he said, shrugging his shoulders.

We’re an organic farm. We don’t use chemicals. So by hand and by machine we cleared out all the privet and camphor, the lantana and other weeds, and were left with a host of ancient citrus trees. They were huge, some of them spindly and weak, and all of them in various stages of declining health after decades of neglect.

That first winter we were amazed. The trees fruited and we harvested  a range of different oranges, blood oranges, tangerines, several kinds of mandarin (clementine), grapefruits and lemons. Most of the varieties were so old that they were not able to be readily identified by the commercial horticulturalist at the nursery up the road.

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We pruned and fed and watered, and waited to see what might happen. Some of the elderly ladies at my CWA group remembered the orchard from their childhoods, when it had been a flourishing commercial affair that supplemented the dairy which used to be our farm. The orchard had been planted in the nineteen-thirties, and had remained in commercial operation until the late sixties.

It was exciting to think that the trees might still be viable. We hoped that we might be able to include them as part of our own organic farm produce plan. In Barcelona we’d seen trees that were well over one hundred and fifty years old and still in full production.

So we tried.

For five years.

And then yesterday we brought the excavator in and pulled almost all of them out.

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Why? The trees are disease-free, but most of them aren’t thriving. A few trees stand out, and produce bountiful, healthy fruit. But six out of sixty? Something wasn’t adding up. Some of our neighbours have had similar issues with their own tree crops so a few of us sent some samples off for testing to find out why our plants aren’t doing what they should, given the treatment we’ve been lavishing upon them.

It turns out our poor old citrus trees have suffered major damage from UV. The UV (ultra violet) radiation levels in Australia have increased dramatically in recent years, and the world is a much warmer place than when these trees were first planted. The winters in our region have become shorter, and less cold. Overall our seasons are more erratic. Effectively our environment is no longer conducive to the ongoing health of the fruit trees. The six old trees that are thriving? They all receive shade for a good portion of the day.

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Global warming is something we can’t ignore. It’s happening right here, right now. It’s the talk of our neighbourhood, and of farming communities everywhere.

So, what are we going to do? Our farm still has good soil, and reliable water. For now, anyway. We’ve decided to plant rows of lilly pilly (a bush tucker food with tart-sweet berries) for shade and wind breaks, and within the protection of those rows we’ll plant a variety of native bush-foods, and heritage (old varieties!) orchard trees which are more heat, drought and sun tolerant. That way we can protect bio-diversity and stay true to our personal philosophy of farming and living gently on the earth.

Our farm already produces plenty of bunya nuts – another fine bush tucker food. At first we’d harvested them for our own use, but now we sell the nuts to local restaurants and to a bush foods co-op which distribute them throughout Australia and overseas. A mix of Australian natives and conventional food crops for our farm seems a grand idea.

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We need to be adaptive to our changing environment, rather than continuing to struggle with old ways that no longer work with these new conditions.

I felt sad to watch the demise of the old citrus trees, but there is no use trying to persevere with something that can’t adapt and thrive. Better to pull them out and plant food trees that are better suited to our changed conditions. Better for us as farmers to be thinking about this warming planet, and what we can do to sustain food availability and quality.

It’s a good lesson for life too, don’t you think?

If you’ve tried, and tried, and something’s just not working, maybe it’s time to walk away and begin something new with a better chance of success.

Helping The Great Mother

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” ~  Rachel Carson
“In a moment the ashes are made, but a forest is a long time growing.” ~ Seneca

 

One of the most vivid dreams in my night of owl dreaming was one in which I flew over the quiet, dark earth with Auntie and my Grandmothers.

There is something about a ‘psychic dream’ or a ‘spiritual dream’ (however you want to call it, I know you’ll know what I mean) which makes it quite different to an ordinary run-of-the-mill ‘subconscious making sense or nonsense of the day’s happenings’ kind of a dream.

Dreams in which you receive a spiritual message or have a metaphysical experience have a heightened quality to them. They are more vivid, more textured, more real. It’s as if you have shrugged off your sleeping form and stepped into another dimension. Which, of course, you probably have.

This is how it was in this particular dream. Auntie, my old and wise Aboriginal mentor, flew on one side of me. Beside her were Little Auntie and Granny. Two of my ancient grandmothers in their strange heavy coats, fur-lined boots and braided long grey plaits, flanked me on the other. We rose up into the sky above my home, and I watched my slumbering form lying in the bed next to my husband, Bert the dog curled up behind my legs, and Harry at Ben’s feet. Harry tilted an ear towards me as though he had heard something, wriggled and then settled down again.

Where were the owls?

We were the owls, of course.

Off we went into the dark sky. The city lights fell behind us, the night was bright and clear, and soon we were over inland Australia. None of us spoke, but I could hear the voices of the other women in my head. They each spoke their own tongues, but still, somehow, I understood them.

‘No good, no good dat water,’ said Auntie as we flew over a wide brown river, and then a parched landscape. There was water deep beneath the ground here. I could feel its flow.

“Lost its sweetness,’ said one of my ancient grandmothers, adding her voice of concern to Auntie’s. She pressed her hand into mine and then I tasted it. An acrid chemical burn in the back of my throat. I knew it was the taste of the water below us.

‘No good,’ Auntie said again, shaking her head.

Gaia Shield by Duncan Eagleson

Gaia Shield by Duncan Eagleson

We swooped down, amid bats and fat cicadas and nightsky traffic. The air was thick and hot, and it smelled of dust and nectar.

‘Dem plants flower too soon. Too hot. All dem flowers dry up. Fall off. Wrong time for dem,’ Granny said.

On we went, over the heart of the country and onwards until we were over the ocean. Still the old women whispered to me, pointing out wonders and things of interest, but more weightily, voicing their concerns. All the animals and plants that had already died out, all of the ones now threatened and endangered. Places polluted and sullied. Air dirty. Water dirty.

‘Dis land our Mother,’ said Auntie sadly.

‘Our Great Mother,’ said my ancient grandmother.

‘She need help,’ Little Auntie said.

All of the women nodded gravely.

I knew they were looking at me. ‘What can I do?’ I asked.

‘Tell dem,’ Auntie said. “Tell dem dat Great Mother need dem. Needs help. Needs love. She a true good mother, but now her children need to show her some kindness. Okay?’

I woke from that dream with tears streaming down my cheeks.

 

 

Meditation for Sharing Energy with the Great Mother

Auntie once taught me a technique for increasing energy within the body. Let me show you how to use it to share energy with the Great Mother.

Image from babosaart

Image from babosaart

Stand outside with your feet on the bare earth if at all possible. If not, that’s okay, but do try. Now focus on either the sun, the moon or the stars. You must be able to physically see whatever you connect into. If you are ill, and bed-bound, it is fine for it to be the view outside your window.

Focus on the sun, or moon, or stars. Make a connection in your mind between you and it. Make a connection in your heart between you and the sun, or the moon, or the stars. Feel the energy of the sun, moon or stars. Feel your energy.

When you have that energetic bond, ask for help. Ask the sun, moon or stars to add to your energy. Ask to be strengthened.

Now imagine the light of the sun, moon or stars flowing to you. Flow that light into your body. Into your veins. Feel the energy and power of sun, moon or stars fill you up. Feel the connection between you. Feel the vast watchfulness, the age, the wisdom of this energy. Feel how strong that life-force is as it enters you. Feel how it cleanses and energises every cell in your body. Feel how it purifies you.

Image from thespiritscience.net

Image from thespiritscience.net

When the energy has built an intensity inside you, become a conduit. Let that energy of the sun or moon or stars run from your feet (or your hands or your heart) out into the earth, into the Great Mother. Feel it energising her, cleansing and purifying her, strengthening and healing her. As it heals and strengthens you, it is also healing and strengthening the Great Mother.

When you are done, give thanks. Give thanks to the sun, the moon or the stars. Give thanks to the Great Mother. Disconnect from those energies. Feel the difference in your own body, and give thanks for that too.

After the rain 1

Of course, there is always more that we can do. Be a voice for the Great Mother. Make choices that are sustainable and healing for our planet – our home. Flow love and gratitude to the natural world that sustains us and provides for us. Support the people and technologies that make our world a cleaner, greener, kinder place.

We are all connected. We are all one. What we do to the Great Mother is also done to ourselves. It is time for love and kindness, for wisdom and awareness. It is time for change.

Thank you.

Much love to you and a really big hug, Nicole xx

Image from emilysquotes.com

Image from emilysquotes.com