Equinox to Equinox

Although the summer hasn’t officially ended, it is certainly drawing to a close, and now on the 21st/22nd we have the change of the season with the equinox. Funnily after all this warm weather, this day dawned all grey and cloudy with a few drops of rain, a cold chill in the air. I just assumed that it was morning mist and blithely went about my business wearing only shorts and a ‘tee’ shirt, preparing for another warm day and a visit from the local Seed Savers Group. The Seed Savers are a loose and variable group of local home gardeners and, I believe, organic growers, who save their own vegetable, fruit and flower seeds. They meet once a month somewhere of common interest to chat, enthuse, swap seeds, fruits, cuttings, seedlings and whatever else, then all sit and share what food they have brought for a casual communal lunch. It’s all very casual, relaxed and cooperative. A very enjoyable day amongst like-minded, caring people with a common interest. This month, they have come to our place.
Nina and I had cleaned up the grape vine pergola area of all the dropped red grapes and swept it out, as the remnants of the grapes were being busily worked over by the local honey bee population for the sticky sweet juice. We have an out-side eating area under there, as well as a wood fired pizza oven. The dense canopy of grape vines overhead creates a cool, soft light and shade in the area around the huge 12 seater table. It’s proven an ideal spot to sit and relax with friends. At some point, I realise that it isn’t going to get any warmer, and that smack on the dot of the equinox it is now autumn. I go inside and put on a shirt, then later, a jumper and beret.
The first of the group arrive and we sit outside and have tea and coffee, while the others arrive. The Seed Savers have been here once before about 18 months ago, so a few things have changed in our garden since then, but not a lot. Still, I take them all for a walk down the garden path, here and there, looking at things that might be of interest in the gardens and orchards. I point out the bush fire fighting sprinkler system that I have installed on the walls of our house, studio and kiln shed.
This is designed to create a wall of water mist on all the western walls and roof of all the buildings. This is to absorb and kill some of the heat energy of the ember attack that will come from this direction in the event of a serious fire. It has it’s own, dedicated, high pressure, petrol driven, fire pump to power it and uses the drinking water that is held in 70,000 litres of storage in our water tanks around the house. We live right out in the bush, on the outskirts of a small village, but it isn’t really a village as such, as we don’t have a shop or post office, a park or a central square where people can congregate. We only have a fire shed. It’s more like a small hamlet and we are 1 km out from its centre. There are no services like town-supply water here. You have to be self-reliant or leave.
I am grateful to say that our fire fighting equipment has never been properly tested in a serious emergency. We fire it up every spring to make sure that it works OK, and then we uses the pump to run a separate line that feeds a few water sprinklers on top of our roof on the very hottest days. This fine shower of water cools the house, or other buildings, down by at least 5 degrees almost instantly. It is so noticeable. Most of the water is recovered from the roof back into the water tanks through the gutters and can be re-used. Some however, is lost through evaporation, which is the exact purpose of the exercise. It is the evaporation of the water on the hot tin roof that causes refrigeration and the drop-off of radiated energy entering the roof space and into the house. It makes the house so much more comfortable on the hottest days, and is a sure way to know that the pump and all its associated systems are working perfectly and in good ‘nik’ ready for any eventuality – should it arise.
We walk around the orchards and some of the dams, then down to the ‘Pantry Field garden’. This our overflow garden space that we use for larger plantings of food that won’t fit in the vegetable garden. It is named after the farm where our friends in Wales live and farm, much as we do here. It was once the field where the local farm grew their produce to sustain themselves way back when. It was bought by Sally and John Seymour. The pioneers of self sufficiency in the UK back in the 60’s and 70’s. before any of us had even thought of it. They wrote books like  “Self Sufficiency” and “On The Fat Of The Land”.
A link to their web site is here.
and ;
We had bought their books and read them before we actually met Sally on one of her trips to Australia.
Sally still lives at ‘Pantry fields’ with her daughter and son-in-law. A terrific place of inspiration and friendship. Sally lived with us here in Australia for a time, back in the 70’s and taught us a lot. She returned and lived with Janine and helped her to look after our son while I was away studying in Japan in the mid 80’s. We visited them at Pantry Field in the 0’ies. Good times and fond memories.
We started this lower ‘Pantry field’ garden just a few years ago down at the bottom of our land where there is an open space in among the tall eucalypt trees. We tried grapes down there first of all, but there were too many dropping branches and leaf litter falling from the trees to make netting the grapes worthwhile. Without netting we didn’t get any grapes, the birds got the lot. When we used the nets, we got grapes, but not enough to justify the huge amount of work required to clean all the sticks, twigs and leafy detritus out from all the netting, before we could roll them up again.
Cabinet sauvignon under-planted with ‘Flanders’ single red poppies.
The netted vineyard, with the pottery in the background.
It was a pretty vineyard, but not productive enough to warrant all the time that we had to spend on it for the small return. Wine grapes are susceptible to powdery mildew on their leaves and need to be sprayed regularly with a toxic spray to inhibit this. I refuse to get involved with toxics. The only organic spray is ‘Bordeaux’ spray, more or less equal parts of copper carbonate and lime, but being water based, it washes off in the first rain. so it has to be re-applied regularly. I was concerned about the amount of copper that would build up in the soil, and didn’t enjoy the act of spraying by hand.
So now it has been turned over to vegetables, and remarkably the tree cover disperses any light frosts that we get, so last year we experimented with growing an over-winter potato crop. We had a lot of left over spuds that we didn’t get around to eating from the huge summer crop, and as they all started to run to shoots and wither, we decided to plant them out and just see what would happen. No loss if they didn’t grow, got burned off with the winter cold. What happened was a frost free micro-climate and another huge crop of potatoes that got us through the spring/summer. We are just starting to dig up the summer crop from the regular garden now. So I’ve decided to try another small over-winter potato crop again this year. Using all the shrivelled and sprouting remains of the last crop that need to get into the ground now.
We don’t really know what we are doing, but try all sorts of things and see what the results are, then go with the best outcome and try again. If we lived in a small Italian village or had living grand-parents here, we would be able to gather knowledge through osmosis, and carry on family traditions, but that chance is long past for us.
When I started this lower garden, I planted a few packets of English Cottage Garden Flower Mix seeds at one end, it started off slowly, but has matured now over the three year period into a very nice little garden bed. An absolute delight in the full flush of spring.
Over the summer, we grew pumpkins in this Pantry field garden, following on from the potatoes and as the pumpkins  are all harvested now and stored away. I spent a day recently, digging it over with a garden fork and getting even more 2nd-crop potatoes from the patch, before cultivating it over with the digger. I bought a tonne of mushroom compost in the ute and spread it over the area, before the cultivating. It has a small fertilising effect, but mostly it provides a lot of organic matter into the soil, that opens the texture and feeds the worms and we do then get a lot of worms coming into the soil after this. Cultivating isn’t good for the soil or the worms, but to convert hard native acid soil into soft, rich, open-textured garden soil needs a lot of compost. Once it’s been well dug-in and incorporated deep into the soil. I just use compost as a top dressing each season after that and the new worm population seems to take it down into the soil.
The pumpkin crop planted in spring
The area weeded and dug over with the garden fork and compost all spread out, ready to be dug in.
I have started planting out some new organically grown garlic varieties. I bought 2 knobs of each of 6 different types. Early White, Glamour, Rose De Var, Italian Red, Early Purple, Melbourne Market. We probably already have some or all of these varieties growing up in the veggie garden. We just collected different varieties from our friends and garden groups over the 40+ years of our gardening. I didn’t keep any records of the varieties. However, I know that we have red, pink blushed and white in both soft-stem and hard-stem varieties plus Russian jumbo garlic and an unusual type that sets mini garlic cloves up on top of its flowering stem instead of seeds. We plant them all every year, some do better than others in different years, so it’s good to have a range. In this way, no matter what type of year it is, there is always something to eat.
We know when it is time to plant garlic, because at this time of year, we find that all the cloves that we missed during the harvest last year, start to shoot about now. If the over-summer cloves think that it’s time to shoot, then it is time.
I was told when I was young that all the allium varieties should be planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest. Solstice to Solstice. I tried that for a few years, but with no real success with the garlic, onions were OK with that, but it is really too late for garlic for us. Garlic seems to do much better for us if it is planted and harvested Equinox to Equinox. As this is when they have chosen to shoot up out of the ground. i think that this is the best indication. So in they go now. Everything is prepared and the timing is perfect.
I will plant early broad beans and peas as well on either side. They are legumes and will help to rejuvenate and re-invigorate the soil with nitrogen as well.
Best wishes from the vampire free zone, that is Steve and Nina’s garden.