One

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Beren Argyle, our little bear,
now you are one –

I was so glad to write your big brother a birthday letter, and even though I struggle to find time to document in words and images life with a little you (as I did with your brother) – I am thankful to have this moment to do so. Life with a little you is so very good, so very full – every day we see more of your personality emerge. Your likes for exploring the kitchen cupboards, eating eggs, yoghurt, sweet potato, strawberries (and any fruit really) and your dislikes for having your nose wiped, your nappy changed or a curiosity (clump of dirt / grasshopper / miscellaneous plastic thing) taken away from reach. You love your brother and follow him wherever he goes, he is beginning to play with you more – albeit sometimes too roughly, wanting to rumble on the floor!

You wave goodbye to dadda once he’s left for chores, and you wave hello to your reflection in the mirror and windows. You point and although no words spoken yet, you can tell us a need or want or grievance or exclamation with your voice. You stand up at every opportunity and scale furniture with speed – you have taken one wobbly step and will no doubt be walking around in no time. You try to stack blocks on top of each other and love to put things in shoes and boxes and cups. I once stepped into my gumboot only to find a hard boiled egg at the bottom!

You adore the outdoors and take every opportunity to catch the back door as it closes so you can escape outside. You inspect ants and blades of grass and scrunch clumps of sand in your chubby hands. You chatter with delight at the sight of the cats prowling around, and so very timidly stoke their back if they come close enough.

Your first birthday was a very simple affair, you accompanied mama on egg deliveries, you napped, you played in the sunshine. Your gifts from us were simple – a hand knit vest, a spotty birthday crown and bib, and a handful of big crayons. You also received some beautiful books and clothes and cards from family. We made a carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese and honey icing. You licked the spoons and seemed very approving. You went to bed early, and you woke through the night with teething pain – we pat your back and kissed your forehead.

Beren, you are a calm and wise soul – I felt that the moment you were born with that dark crop of hair (now significantly lighter) and big eyes that could fix on my face. I feel an enormous blessing and privilege to be your mama and to watch you grow. May you know many happy tree climbs, barefoot adventures and red dusk skies, always feel loved, know the goodness of meaningful work and nourishing rest, always care about the world around you, and above all carry hope in you heart.

Happy birthday little one,
With love and hugs, always
xx

in the garden

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It is now March, and the garden is still persevering… Hurray!

It has been scorching hot and we’ve had barely a smatter of rain. We do our very best with hand-watering ALL the plants and trees as the cool of evening rolls around… it is tiring, but we are rewarded with plump tomatoes, herbs, squash, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, lettuce and yes, even the odd sweet watermelon. Summer produce is so very wonderful.

I had a first attempt at planting out the winter vegetables – cabbages, broccoli and kale but all were swiftly eaten to the stump by grasshoppers (yep, still around), then what remained was scorched by the sun on these 35’c days. I have however, sown direct carrots and beetroots and peas with some success, and have more cuciferous seeds raising indoors for later sowing…

It’s a mystery, this garden growing business – last year basil and parsley and pumpkins did famously well, this year we’ve had barely of any. But the chillies and tomatoes are coming in each day, and for that we are thankful!

There’s always jobs to do – more seeds to raise and plant direct, weeds to pull, grass to mow down, mulch to go out on everything; chicken-poo + sawdust from the brooders, compost, sugar cane and straw, excluding + resting parts of the polytunnel that housed (unsuccessful) corn and cucumbers, prolific spaghetti squash and potatoes, beds to build up for the next season…

So here’s to the cool of Autumn,
that she might come soon
and bring a steady patter of rain…
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p.s. yes, the polytunnel bathtub has been upgraded to a cast-iron claw foot and also doubles as a wonderful play pen for baby while mama potters!

ode to summer

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IMG_9154IMG_9144last day of summer,
leaves drooping in the heat
the garden tank that’s dry (again)
nights spent hand watering
cold bathwater, dusting eggs,
spiders on the wall,
a dead snake in the yard,
and grasshoppers everywhere
(even in the toilet bowl)
you are the speedy crawls
and cheeky smiles of a baby
the fantastical stories of a small boy
sea caves in bed,
kittens asleep by the door,
sheep bleating in the paddock,
happy visits from kin –

you are the time two weeks ago
after we put the boys to bed,
my sister and I headed for the hills
(my closest neighbours, in granite and grass strewn garb)
I captured with lens
that afternoon golden light
her beautiful face in the breeze –
we feel the silk soft seeds
of nettles,
the smell – so sweet,
of a patch of red clover,
we walked the narrow trails the cows made,
over rocks decorated in lichen –
sage, lime green, slate grey, tin roof red
at the highest point up we can see out
for miles in every direction –
forest, pasture, winding road,
I come up here, I say,
to feel small,
to listen and pray
and be blown by the wind –

this last day of summer
is a mystery that comes around
every four years,
is a thin copper line on the horizon,
moths around the light bulb,
spiders spinning,
early morning light,
dry hands and heels,
wind howling at night,
the cracked earth around the dam,
chickens resting in the shade –
seven yellow squash on the table,
a bowl of tomatoes –

I don’t feel it now,
but I know we’ll miss you
once you’re gone.

fishy four

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Today is our firstborn Reuben’s fourth birthday. It seems like only yesterday he was born, and now he’s no longer a babe or a toddler but a little boy – so full of questions and articulate phrases, so much storytelling, curiosity and intense feeling! Truly we are blessed to have in him a warm and caring soul, a willing helper and companion on farm and house chores, a protective big brother, an outdoor explorer and avid reader…

And so on the weekend we held a very fishy themed birthday brunch (Reu’s favourite meal) to mark his four glorious years. A dear friend of mine came to stay for the week and we set about cleaning the house, making fish and other sea creatures out of old drawings and paper scraps, seaweed garlands, balloon jellyfish and good food to eat. A “red and blue” fish cake was requested – lemon and poppyseed yoghurt cake with cream cheese and berries – it was a hit with young and old. We had starfish shapes of watermelon and grape fish “eggs”, cheese and crackers, buckwheat and kefir pancakes with jam and cream, baked sweet potato chips, cornflake + honey “shell grit” and other delicious treats. The little people bounced on the trampoline, coloured in fishy shapes and ran about the house, while the big people mingled and ate and drank cups of tea. A happy morning to befit our happy fish-loving boy!
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boys

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IMG_8886I am blessed to be a mama to two boys,
three years, two months and five days between them
these curious, adventurous and oft-smiling brothers –

I want to remember them as they are right now,
no baby book milestones, but those everyday graces
the no-longer-napping child falling asleep on his bed,
the slap slap of hands and knees crawling about the house
with increasing speed,
yes this –
the questions why,
the head shaking and crook of my neck snuggling,
the car-ride storytelling, the careful observations
the mispronunciations –
mish-chef-fous-sis (mischevious)
and announcements –
“I think only big men can climb on the roof”
“I am embarrassed when Beren keeps looking at me”
“I think those ants are laying eggs on that box”
“These bananas are getting crazy”

Oh, and when my baby giggles as he hides in pillows
when my boy climbs the fence to “check” on storm clouds,
and later he wraps his arms around me
and says, I love you mama –

There are hard days too,
and long wakeful nights
unsettled, restless, grumpiness –
when we loose our tempers, melt down,
kick something, knock a block tower over,
push a little brother back –

but I don’t really want to remember all that
except to say, it passes,
we got through –
and we spent a lot more time smiling.

one year in

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This month marks one whole year of operating Hand to Ground; our small-scale, regenerative, family farm business. And what a year it was for us – so many things done for the first time, research gathered, mistakes made, successes celebrated, relationships built. It was daunting to step out and make a go of farming full-time for a livelihood. We are told the first two to five years are the most difficult for a new business, and without the support and encouragement of friends and family, as well as mentoring through the Government’s NEIS program – we likely wouldn’t have kept going.

But there is nothing so rewarding as hearing how much a customer’s children enjoyed (and devoured) their roast chicken, or seeing golden yolked eggs crack into the breakfast pan, or have neighbours lend a hand to unload bags of grain – as falling into a clean, warm bed after a long day out in the elements, to see with your bare eyes the landscape refreshed from a cycle of hens scratching and fertilising the ground…

So a summary of operations –

  • We started the year with two warré beehives in operation. We harvested our first batch of about 9 kilos of raw cold pressed honey in March.We sold all our strained honey, and rendered the beeswax for soap and candle making and cooking. Sadly after a very dry Autumn and cold Winter we found we had lost one of our hives, the other appeared slow and weak and the colony absconded before we had to chance to re-Queen!  At the same time in the early Spring we gained four other colonies – two from abandoned hives on a friends’ property, and two as wild swarms – one caught onto of our water tank and one caught in a friend’s backyard. Despite a very short and hot Spring, all four hives are going well, though building their stores very slowly.
  • In February we welcomed 300 day-old layer chicks to our custom built wooden brooding houses. Once big enough, they moved into their beautiful “egg mobile” hen house built atop a caravan trailer – which provides shelter at night, a cool place to lay eggs in the day, and can easily be towed across the pasture. In June they began to lay eggs – about 180-210 each day – which we collect, clean and pack by hand. We began delivering our pastured eggs to cafes, restaurants and a green grocer in nearby towns. We added a further 50 point of lay hens in Spring, and encountered a great chicken faux pas – that you don’t ever just join two flocks of hens together without giving them some time to get used to each other (with a barrier or some kind) – otherwise the pecking order is disturbed and you experience a swift drop in egg production! We acquired two roosters to help keep the peace, and slowly got back to normal production.
  • In Autumn we brooded our first batch of meat chickens. The 300 day-old broiler chicks actually arrived the afternoon of our baby boy Beren’s birth!  We learnt a lot in the weeks that followed about brooding broiler chickens, our local climate and how to keep our birds healthy and thriving despite extreme temperature fluctuations and prowling foxes! In late Winter we began brooding our next batch of meat chickens, ready for processing in late Spring and early Summer. We began suppling local cafes and restaurants with our tasty birds, as well as running a pre-order and pick-up system with our fabulous local green grocer Watts’ Fresh in Kyneton. We also bought a refrigerated trailer – and with the meat safety inspector’s tick of approval – were able to start transporting our chickens to our local farmers markets.
  • We attended a total of 12 farmers markets with Emily’s gluten free baked goods and seasonal preserves. Her French-style baked custards “canéles” and sourdough bread were especially popular. She also ran her first gluten free bread making workshop in October – hosted by our dear friends at A Plot in Common – It was a great success and  she will be holding another workshop in February.
  • Alex was fortunate enough to see the great farmer, writer and agricultural activist – Joel Salatin speak three times this year! He attended a Jonai Farm’s Grow Your Ethics workshop, and was also part of a Deep Winter gathering of like-minded people to discuss the future of small scale sustainable and ethical agriculture and food sovereignty. We are optimistic that with continued public interest, political pressure and support from local communities – fair food and farming systems will continue to grow in Australia.

We are so thankful for the support from our local community – our families, new friends (and old), big-hearted neighbours, chefs and restauranteurs, grocers, mums and dads – who care about what they eat and where it comes from. We do feel enormously blessed that we are still in operation – that we have access to land and water and opportunity to share what we raise with those around us.

As we look forward to our second year we hope to keep learning from our mistakes, build on our successes, problem solve, persevere – and above all to to keep our faith in the Earth’s remarkable abilities to heal and regenerate itself, in the joy of wholesome work, in the goodness of fresh food, in a better future for our kids…

Thank you for joining us!

in the garden

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I was hesitant to write this blog post – to capture the same angles of my garden that I did in my post from October last year. To pause and reflect on how much a garden changes in two and half months – when your tank runs dry, and you have one the hottest, driest and shortest Spring’s on record, when a plague of grasshoppers descends and consumes most green in sight! But then I thought, no, I want this record made – it is real life trying to grow a garden, trying to work out the seasons, to live on land. You just have to keep going as best you can…
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And remarkably our garden is not all dried and brown. There are patches of green, petunia blooms and tomatoes forming. There are a little herbs (that the grasshoppers are not eating) like chives and mint we can pick and toss through our salad. There are lettuce leaves to be picked from a pot, zucchinis and dainty green squashes that mysteriously appear overnight.

There was a point when we just had to choose which plants we wanted to survive the most – and spend our scant and precious rain and household “grey” water on them. So it’s become our nighttime ritual, after we put the boys to bed and it’s still light – we cart out the cold water from our showers, baby bath and kitchen sink – we fill up watering cans from the garden tank – to pour out on the infant trees, vegetables and flowers we planted here.

This summer we are learning the absolute joy a spot of living green brings…  we are also taking note of which plants are truly hardy, how an organic soap-based spray is fairly effective deterrent for grasshoppers, what difference enough mulch makes.
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I am especially amazed that some plants have survived in the heat of the polytunnel – that these grasshoppers just don’t seem keen on eating my tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, squash or watermelons (but the corn and sunflowers, oh my, they are devouring that) and they are actually thriving and producing good things for us to eat.

Last week we had an idea to install one of our many farmyard bath tubs into the polytunnel so I could finally have a much wished-for soak every now and again. And a day or two later I filled it with pots of rain water heated on the stove, adding epsom salts and a few drops of lavender and bergamot oil and lay there luxuriating as night fell, with our cats padding around and grasshoppers jumping, I listening to rustling trees and the crow of birds, and looking up spied a faint sparkle of stars… the next day I scooped out the water onto the plants. Bliss indeed.