Frost On The Flats!

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.” 
J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

Brrrr!
I’m late blogging this morning because we were up early to feed out to our cows.
A big roundbale of hay, and some mixes of molasses, copra and minerals to help the mums stay strong as our cows out all of their nutrition into the milk that is feeding their calves.

My fingers are still numb. The tip of my nose is rosy with cold.

Our dogs are a damp waggy mass of smiles and boundless energy.

And all around us the ground is dusted with frost.

Now it’s time for a cup of tea and a hot shower before we head off into Byron Bay for my weekly acupuncture and tune up.

Sending massive hugs your way, Nicole ❤ xx

PS – Thanks for all your lovely messages yesterday. A cry or two, a big sleep and this morning I’m good as new.

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

 

 

 

 

A Posy Of Weeds For My Friend

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”

~ Muhammad Ali

 

I have a friend who waits for me every day.

Our big tough bull – or Red Bull, as we call him.

Each day he walks along the fence until he catches a glimpse of me. He might wait until I am out in the vegetable garden or hanging out the washing. Sometimes he comes and stands on the other side of the fence level opposite my kitchen window.

When he sees me and catches my eye he makes a little noise, a tiny little ‘ooof’ – a cross between a sigh and a grunt of acknowledgement – loud enough that I can hear him but soft enough that he doesn’t attract the attention of the herd.

As soon as I can I go and gather a posy for him. I pluck comfrey and dandelion leaves from where they grow wild in the lawn. I pick tender weeds. Sometimes I will add a few herbs. And then I walk across to the fence and he comes to greet me and I pass him his tasty posy.

He always tries to be discrete but sometimes the greedy older cows cotton on to what is happening and rush over, pushing him out of the way so that they can have a share as well. He never complains and stands aside to let them in like a true gentleman.

That’s Daisy Mae’s nose you can see in the picture below. She barged in on us and ruined our date. I love her too, but gee she’s bossy and, of course, she brought all her friends!

Tomorrow at the Farmers Markets I’ll buy a bunch of carrots so I can keep the tops for Red Bull as a special treat. He loves those.

I never thought I’d count a one-tonne gentle giant as a dear friend, but I do, and I look forward to our daily meet-ups as much as he does.

Wishing you a day blessed with friendship too.

Much love from all of us here at the farm, Nicole ❤  xx

 

Why We Vaccinate

 “In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.” — Benjamin Franklin

 

We live on a beautiful rural property in Byron Bay, which we farm organically. We don’t use chemicals, artificial fertilisers or pesticides. To support the health of our herds and crops we use natural mineral fertilisers, biodynamics and good farm management. We also supplement our stock with minerals and molasses, and we vaccinate.

People are often surprised that we vaccinate, and that I am the chief officer of those vaccinations. But we live in the Northern Rivers – a lush country with high rainfall and summer temperatures, and every year when the season’s conditions are right ( dry winter followed by lashings of rain, summer storms, high heat and abundant new grass growth) we have an upsurge of a spore-forming bacteria in the soil called Clostridium chauvoei. It causes a condition called Black Leg, which kills healthy young cattle in a number of hours. By the time the condition is detected, if at all, there is little that can be done to save the animal. There are livestock deaths every year on farms around us. All of which can be prevented by vaccination.

Why do I know this?

Previously we farmed organically on a property in Queensland – a very different kind of holding with open forests and hard grasses. I hadn’t even heard of Blackleg, because our farm just didn’t have the conditions for it to be a problem. We vaccinated there too, but for different illnesses, including Tick Fever (Babesiosis – a co-infection that many human Lyme suffers have, including myself. Blood tests revealed this in me, along with a number of other bacterial infections that are also tick and biting insect borne and that are accepted to be present in many other mammals including cattle, although of course not humans! I’d love to show you the Fact Sheet on Borreliosis in cattle put out by the Department of Primary Industries in Australia. It was widely available for many years until the Lyme controversy started to heat up here, after which it was suddenly withdrawn. Sorry, I digress…)

When we trucked the best of our herd to our new farm we had a summer just like the one we are entering into now – lush, wet and hot. And within a month we lost six young animals over just a few days to this disease I’d never heard of. They were the healthiest and best animals we had, and that good health and good genetics did not protect them. We found them dead in the paddocks, after having seem them healthy and strong the day before. We called in the vet, and the vet introduced us to Blackleg and explained how and why it had occurred and what we could do to minimise the chance of it happening again. We’d vaccinated those cattle too, but not for this illness. I was beside myself that it could have been prevented and that I hadn’t researched this better.

So now as part of our herd health we vaccinate. Our dogs are vaccinated too, especially for the highly contagious Parvovirus which is rampant in the Northern Rivers and which kills too many puppies and dogs here in Byron Bay every year.

I thought about whether to post this, as vaccination has become such a polarising and controversial subject. Here in Byron Bay we have one of the lowest rates of human vaccination in Australia. I think the ongoing debate about the number, frequency and manufacture of vaccines for children is important. But I also know that vaccines save lives.

While we keep farming I’ll keep practicing land care, soil health, biodiversity, organic practices and I’ll vaccinate.

Take care of yourself, and each other,

Much love, Nicole  xx

Red Bull’s Beautiful Babies

 

calf

“To country people Cows are mild,
And flee from any stick they throw;
But I’m a timid town bred child,
And all the cattle seem to know.”
~ T.S. Eliot

Do you remember Red Bull, our miracle calf? That’s him in the photo above, taken about eighteen months ago when he was just a wee thing, a few months old.

He’s a dad!

It’s official. Our herd are now all in various stages of late pregnancy, and we’ve already got two new calves on the ground, the first of Red Bull’s progeny.

Here’s the first. Mum hasn’t let us close enough yet to be able to tell the gender, but this calf is enormous and only three days old.

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And here’s the second. This one is definitely a boy! A boy of high spirits and much joy.

grey calf

running

It was wonderful to watch them frolicking in the grass yesterday. Dad is keeping a watchful eye out for them, and there are a few other mums looking about ready to drop, so I think March will be a very productive month here at the farm.

Lots of love from all of us,

Nicole xx

A Day At the Farm

bunyas and beer

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”
~ Emma Goldman

 

I slept in yesterday. Til nearly eight am. Pure luxury! I’ve had a month of restless nights thanks to Lyme disease, so to sleep so deeply and completely was bliss.

Our farm is a hive of activity right now. We’re fencing, planting, and mosaic-clearing to make way for a replanting of indigenous species to replace the camphor, privet and lantana that we’re ripping out.

That means we have a tribe of workers to feed. I’ve found that workers always work better on full stomachs. 🙂

The men started early, down in the river paddock laying water pipe to the stockyards. I cooked them breakfast when I woke up. A fry-up of our own organic sausages, green tomatoes, herbed scrambled eggs and many pots of tea.

snag and eggs

When the men went back to work I baked fruit cake, and put a pot of chicken soup on the stove. That meant dinner was sorted and my cake tin is full again.

fruitcake

Then I settled down to some writing time.

After lunch I supervised the clearing of a huge grove of bamboo right beside the carport. It’s a beautiful plant, bamboo, but a real fire hazard. Last year, when there was a bushfire miles from here, a small patch of the bamboo litter ignited from a drifting ember. Luckily we were home and able to put it out straight away. But with Australian summers the way they have been, coupled with our unpredictable rainfall, the bamboo had to go. My recent psychic experience with bushfire, and having clients who have lost farms, homes, animals and livelihoods, we aren’t game to take unnecessary risks. Ben cut out usable lengths of the bamboo and the rest will be used for mulch in the newly cleared places.

les

bamboo

To finish the day Ben and one of the men brought several wheelbarrow loads of bunya nuts up to the house, and we stood around shelling them, while the men enjoyed an after-work beer. It’s another bumper crop this year, and we sorted and weighed about twenty kilograms of bunya nut kernels to store in the deep freeze until we send them off to local restaurants or to the bush tucker wholesalers.

nuts

Of course I’ve kept ample nuts for ourselves, and there is still at least a ute load of extra nuts the size of cannonballs in the grass under the trees that we haven’t yet collected.

bunya bucket

This morning we’re off to the Mullumbimby Farmers Markets to meet friends, have a little breakfast and a good coffee, and buy good fresh bread, eggs and a basket full of fruit and vegetables.

I love the depth and variety of this life, here at the farm. And it certainly keeps me grounded for all of the other metaphysical work I do!

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.

2012-07-15 08.31.15

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.

2015-01-27 14.22.24

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.

2015-01-27 14.22.47

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.

2013-12-30 18.03.28

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.

Sowing Seeds

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“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Yesterday afternoon the sky over the farm grew heavy and dark. The air was hot and humid, with not a hint of breeze. I had finished a busy day of phone readings and retreat preparations, and I would have loved to sink into a chair with a cold drink, or jump in the pool to cool down.

But no.

Instead I put on some old clothes and headed down to the river flats with Ben to sow grass seed.

grass seed

Gradually we’ve been reclaiming areas of our farm that were long neglected. We’ve mosaic-cleared patches of lantana, privet and camphor using an excavator, and replanted them with good paddock grasses as feed for the cattle, or with rainforest trees that restore some of the original biodiversity of this area. We are an organic farm, so we don’t use chemicals. Instead we clear with machines and by hand. It’s more work, but its honest work, and it keeps us deeply in touch with our land and our herd.

grass-seed

Rain is predicted in the next few days, so it’s a good time to sow seed. Sometimes work needs to come before rest.

We sow this seed by placing the fine seeds into buckets and then taking handfuls and scattering them on any bare patches of soil in front of us. We also like to sow seed directly over cow pats. The rich fertiliser gives the seed a fantastic start.

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It’s actually a restful and contemplative job. While we walked the paddocks we watched our nesting pair of wedgetail eagles teaching their two hatchlings how to fly and hunt. The air was filled with their cries, and the typical ‘I’m hungry’ squawks of the junior birds who were wanting to be fed.

A lone black cockatoo soared overhead.

Wallabies came out to graze now that the worst heat of the day had passed.

Bert stayed on the back of the ute, watching the world go by and feeling very important.

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And a hopeful Harry followed us everywhere with his new rope toy, waiting for a game.

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In a month or so we’ll see a bright green flush of new grass, and the thick blades of millet poking through the soil. We’re resting this paddock right now, while our cattle graze up in the orchard and around the hills. By autumn we’ll have a good source of feed to carry us into winter.

Farming teaches us lessons that are also valuable in life.

What seeds can you sow this week that might blossom for you in the future? How can you improve an area of your life by putting in some time and energy?

Yesterday I also completed my NaNoWriMo challenge for 2014 – that crazy plan of writing 50 000 words in November.

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Some of those words are pretty darned awful. But now I have an awful first draft I have something to work with, and to shape into a book that is a whole lot better than this initial attempt. If I’d never started, I wouldn’t have those 52 303 words to work with! It’s a cracking start, and I’m itching to keep going now that I have some momentum.

So, what results do you want to be able to harvest in your life? I challenge you to go sow some seeds to make that happen.

panic

A Little Light Rain

misty morning

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”
~ Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

 

We’ve woken to light rain on the roof, here at the farm. There is rain enough that it is gurgling in the gutters, and running into our tanks. Everything is glossy and green again.

wild ginger

Rain right now, coming into spring, is a blessing. It’s the driest year in our district since 1902. Rain now will get the grass growing, ease the discomfort of the trees in the orchard, and nourish the tender new seedlings in my vegetable beds.

Seedling1

It’s good for our souls too. There is something cleansing and nurturing about rain – the smell it brings, the moisture in the air, the richness it releases from leaves and soil.

Today I can wear my gumboots, and do a happy dance for my cows. I can rejoice in the morning’s soggy beauty.

last lotus

Later I shall sit in front of the fire, listening to rain on the roof, as I write, write, write and drink tea while soup bubbles away on the stove. This afternoon, a few psychic appointments to take me through until dinner.

There can’t be much better than that. Life is beautiful, all shiny bright from rain.

Bless xx

prayer flags

Roadside Bounty and Shared Harvests

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“We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.”Orison Swett Marden

On the back roads around our own little farm, many farmers and those folks with large home gardens have set up roadside stalls to sell some of their surplus produce.

I love shopping like this. For a handful of coins I have access to the freshest of fruits, vegetables, flowers, plants and occasional batches of jams or pickles.

Doesn’t this gramma pumpkin look delicious! I’m thinking to use it for a pumpkin pie and some scones for our weekend visitors.

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One of the other fabulous things that makes my world turn is sharing.

I made a large batch of chicken bone broth, and shared it with a neighbour. In return they gave me some avocado ‘seconds’ from a large bucket someone else had gifted them.

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Later, I shared some home-baked Anzac biscuits with an elderly friend, and in return I was given a large bag of bright green chokos which I shall turn into pickles over the weekend. Some of those pickles, I’m sure, shall be swapped for other bounty.

The empty glass jars I’ll fill with pickles were saved for me by a friend who owns a coffee shop and book store in Byron Bay. I’ll keep a jar of pickles out for her for repayment of her kindness.

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And of course, I also harvested lots and lots of hugs as I gathered this wonderful produce yesterday!

This morning Ben and I are heading to the Mullumbimby Farmers’ Markets for a few more goodies for the week ahead. Some fermented foods, some bread and local cheese, a couple of extra veggies, a jar of excellent local miso paste, and of course a social catch-up and a coffee with friends.

I’m wishing for you a weekend full of sharing, love and laughter. Much love to you, Nicole xx