This is The ChangeUnderground for the week ending 4th of January 2021.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the phrase work/life balance would not have made sense. Life was, in some sense, work, particularly for the 98% of the Medieval population engaged in agriculture. In some ways we have been given a glimpse of this life during 2020. From the arbitrary lockdowns in places like India where day labourers were unable to return to their villages from the cities with many attempting to walk, spreading virus and/or dying along the way, to the work from home zoom generation. I mean no disrespect for the Indian decision. A billion people and a rampant novel virus is never a good combination and I suspect there’d be unintended consequences from any decision.
The large scale purchasing of seeds during 2020 points to a more agricultural rhythm imposed upon people who have never lived this life choice.
For many of us living “out of town” as they say, not much changed. We live “out of town” for good reasons. Lack of bustle, traffic and hubbub being high on my list. The ability to grow our own, or a large part of, our own food is another. The cycle of the year too is an important factor. I hope the newly minted veggie growers are coming to an understanding of the wheel of the year. Some had a fairly steep learning curve. Back in March last year I visited a local rural supplies shop in town to pick up some pea and swede seeds. Remember March is Autumn here in Tasmania and I was looking for winter crops. Talking to the owner he mentioned he’d had a huge run on Sweet Corn seeds which is a bit of a head scratcher given we can and usually do cop at least one frost a winter down to sea level. The thing is though, people were showing their willingness to grow some of their own food. Even if, given the interwebs and all, they had a gap in their applicable knowledge.
The thing with growing food is the connection with seasons. The turning of the wheel of the year. We’re at 345 metres above sea level, that’s around 1130 ft in the old money. We receive a healthy number of frosts during the year. A drought year brings more, generally less cloud cover, than a wet year.
The leaf drop in the small orchard marks the end of Summer. The bareness of the tree limbs, with the sun rising to the north of our orchard when I look out at it from the kitchen sink, also reminds me of the wheel of the year. As the winter rolls on the sunrise moves towards the equator before standing still for a couple of days, at least appearing to, before the long journey back to the south of the orchard. At 41 degrees south and therefore in the roaring forties, the variation is obvious.
Leaf fall is the sign to plant the garlic. It goes into the beds where I’ve grown buckwheat. This wonderful plant sucks nutrients to itself and makes them available to the next crop. Beautiful flowers and heart shaped leaves, are a joy to watch growing. Incidentally, this crop has nothing to do with wheat or any other of the fertile crescent grains. It is gluten free and extremely frost sensitive. The rule of thumb I’m using is this: if it is a frost sensitive grain, it’s probably gluten free. Things like, maize, buckwheat, sorghum and rice spring to mind. I might be wrong but the rule seems to hold.
Each season brings its own tasks. Winter means trimming the raspberries to about four foot or 120cm and removing last year’s fruiting canes. It means preparing the duck house for the broody period that will come in Spring. This means clearing out the deep litter and spreading it on the garden beds. Then liming the floor of the duck house, spreading straw, cleaning the waterers and grain containers. After that, last year’s ducklings are big enough to move in. The duck houses are connected to three different runs so the ducks rotate across these. This winter I will be planting fruit trees into these three runs. These will feed both us and the ducks.
Pruning fruit trees begins in August as the colder weather begins to bite. I take cutting as I prune, dipping the “root” end of the cuttings in local raw honey to promote growth. There is something special about raw honey that I’m sure science is yet to fully describe. I’ve also used it on an open wound the vet left after a goat had to have a quarter removed because of mastitis. Cleanest, quickest recovery from surgery I’ve ever seen.
Through winter, these tasks continue until finished. The garden beds, once topped up with the duck bedding, are planted to broad beans. I use the Dwarf Egyptian variety as they better withstand the trade winds that come with living in this latitude. These are then slashed when they are in full bloom and left to rot on top of the beds.
Spring is never really that warm here so things like vines, pumpkins, squash etc and sweet corn I leave until the start of summer, 1 December here. This past summer has been fairly cool too but a large patch of broad beans are up, the buckwheat is powering away and the sweet corn is growing slowly.
There is little to do at this time with those crops but let them grow. Maybe some water if things are dry. Once they’re in and up focus turns to raspberry picking. The ducks are sitting on eggs but they are hopeless mothers. A day after the eggs have hatched, I grab the ducklings and move them to an enclosed area in the shed with a heat lamp. They grow quickly. At present the first batch of 18 are now in an enclosure two pallets long by one wide. These pallets are given away free at major hardware supplier in town. From this area, which is given new bedding each day, they will move onto the clean duck house mentioned above. We will eventually have three of these duck houses with their associated runs. We can sell 20 dozen eggs a week without the overly bureaucratic requirements and costs that kick in over 20 dozen a week.
In the second half or thereabouts of January, the garlic harvest starts. So not long now.
Then the blackberries that grow wild alongside the train tracks forming our eastern border will be ripe. At about this time we’ll be picking apples. They come in a regular fashion, one tree after the other. We preserve them as pulp, as apple cakes, as apple jelly and, of course, eat an enormous amount fresh. We fit the bean slashing and the sweet corn harvest throughout this time too.
Finally when the harvest is in brings us back to leaf drop.
As you can see there’s a rhythm to the year. Despite whatever else is going on in the world outside our fences, the year rolls on inside them. It is for this reason, amongst others, that I think we all need to grow something. A small no-dig veggie garden, a dwarf fruit tree or two, or some soft fruit, raspberries, strawberries and so on and maybe a couple of chooks or ducks would replicate the wheel of the year without tying anyone to dawn to dusk tasks. It is possible to do. The more of us who do it, the gentler the world will become. I live for a time where the growers of food are more admired than vacuous celebrity types who provide nothing but envy, dissension and mindless consumption. That’s the problem with having the heart and mind of a poet in time when the word citizen has been replaced with the term consumer.
Let’s encourage through our examples, the wonder that is a freshly pulled carrot, a ripe, crisp apple and an egg so yellow and bright we reach for sunglasses.
And while we and others are growing our food in our no-dig gardens we will be: Decarbonising the air, recarbonising the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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