Snow for the Last Firing Workshop of the Season

It freezing!

The wind has a minus zero wild chill factor and It’s quite hard to get warm. All the wood is wet, even in the wood shed where it has been stored for some weeks, but it just isn’t drying out because of the constant rain. It snowed over night and closed the highway. The busses aren’t running because the highway is blocked. We used to get snow like this, only briefly, every winter back in the seventies when we first came here to the Southern Highlands, but due to global warming, we haven’t had snow for a few years now. So we are unprepared. I have to resort to going down to the kiln shed and stealing some of the dry kiln wood to get the fire started this morning. It’s a day for staying inside until the weather clears a bit, or the sun comes out. We had an inch of rain before the snow. So everything is a bit boggy out there. I was planning on planting out the onion sets, maybe later in the day? It’s well past time to plant out the onions. They should have been planted out last month, 3 or 4 weeks ago. I was brought up to believe that onions should be planted on the shortest day, (20th June), and harvested on the longest, Xmas day. Or there a-bouts. It’s always worked out well enough for us to follow that rule and it’s easy to remember.

The professional advice I have is that there are many types of onions and they can be planted out at different times. I’m sure that this is absolutely correct, but I just don’t have the time to work it all out. Hunter River Brown and Spanish Red are my onions of choice. Plus of course, spring onions and leeks at any time of year. Everything gets planted out now as soon as I can get the time to do it, as close as possible to the mid year solstice in this case. It could explain why we have such variable results with everything that we grow – especially onions. We just don’t put enough effort in. Lazy buggers that we are. We once had a moon planting calendar, to tell us the best time to plant or transplant seedlings. I doubt that it makes any difference, maybe it does? I just don’t know. Because I don’t know, I can’t say that it does or doesn’t make any difference. I could never tell. The sceptic in me doubts it. I couldn’t always get out there on a Tuesday afternoon after 2.00pm to do the particular planting of specific root crops, to catch to most beneficial window for them. I was lucky to get out there some time in the same week, or even the closest month, as is the case now with these onions. I plant when I can find the time. What seems to me to be more important to success in growing vegetables, is keeping up the constant weeding and in dry times, the watering, often twice a day at the height of summer.

We have just finished our last firing workshop for this firing season and are waiting for the kiln to cool. Everything seemed to go well and so perhaps we can anticipate a good result for all the hard-working participants. I hope that the results are good for them. They work so hard to bring it all together. I want it to be rewarding for them. I try my best to deliver for them. But nothing in life is certain.

We started the firing within 10 minutes of the usual time, after finishing packing on the Saturday afternoon and finished the firing within half an hour of our usual time on Sunday afternoon. Pretty much like clockwork. Not so surprising when you think that this is the 22nd firing of this kiln, in this configuration, and fired in this way. It’s only a small kin, so we seem to be getting to know it quite well now.

Everyone who wants to, gets to have a go at stoking the wood into the firebox during their shift. We work to give everyone a safe, enjoyable, entertaining, educational and productive experience. We do all that we can think of to achieve this. We must be doing some things right, as a few students decide to enroll in double workshops and  others have re-enroll the following year. We could do better, but we only have just so much time and energy to put into it.
I try to deliver.


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Although I have never eaten marshmallows, they seem to appear at most of the firings and are quite popular as the preferred sugar-hit, towards the end of the firing, after a long night shift.


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all above images by Jay Warwar

During the firing, I was caught on Davin’s phone, wearing my welding jacket and helmet, looking a bit like Ned Kelly.

Stand and deliver!
I try to deliver.

IMG_2657Image courtesy of Davin Turner

Last night we went to the Royal Society meeting and listened to Dr. Brian Keating Executive Director of CSIRO’s Agriculture, Food and Health Sector.

“The Federal Government has finally released it’s long awaited plan for Australian agricultural competitiveness White Paper 4th July 2015. In this paper the government notes that Northern Australia is a bio-security risk hot spot, facing different risks from other parts of Australia, due to it’s proximity to other countries and its tropical environment which is more receptive to certain pests, diseases and weeds.”

 “Dr Keating’s Sector is responsible for science based solutions to major global challenges such as;

– Food security and the need to increase agricultural productivity in a sustainable way.

– Strong and sustainable industries and economics in rural areas.

– Biosecurity for agriculture including threat of Zoonotic diseases.

– links between food and Health”

(intro from the Royal Soc. briefing note)

In his talk he spent some time outling some of the issues to do with food security. Australia benefitted from the green revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, and we are tracking well to be food secure into the near future, possibly up to the 2050 mid-century period, going on past efforts and statistics. However, there are many variables and bio-security risks, global warming, unpredictable volcanic activity affecting sunlight levels, prolonged draught or el nino, all could change this very rapidly. Apparently we only store about 90 days worth of food in Australia and this is average for the Advanced Western Economies. This has worked well for wealthy nations in the past, as there was always somewhere with an excess and we have a AAA credit rating, so now, because of globalization, we can buy in what we need from whoever is prepared to sell. However, This may not always be the case. In recent decades, apparently, we have gone from a net exporter of food to a net importer. A lot of this is to do with persistent drought in different parts of the country.

The Federal government has also cut spending on plant research, development and breeding. In fact, there have been cuts in many branches of the CSIRO, so we may not always be able to stay ahead of all the pests and diseases, that are consistently developing resistant strains.

We are already using all the arable land that is available and is irigatable. Clearing more forested land will only add to global warming by releasing more CO2 and all the really good, fertile land has already been cleared, so what remains is marginal.

He presented it all quite matter-a-fact, but I fould it quite chilling!

Apparently there a very few sustainable wild caught fisheries left in the world. The future lies in aquaculture, but this causes tremendous polution problems with the local environments where it is implemented. Its also a very inefficient way of producing protein, with several kilos of small fish caught and minced to feed the bigger fish in the pens. Much of this penned fish stock is now being fed on wheat products to provide the protein, but this doesn’t really give the correct balance, so the fish produced don’t have the precious omega 3 oils. The answer from the CSIRO is a GM wheat that contains the omega 3s inserted into it’s genome. The ‘feed-lot’ fish flesh can also be a bit grey, so an orange dye can be added to overcome this.

Oh Dear!

I find it all a bit distressing, but this is the new reality. No one else in the audience seems to be too bothered. They’ve heard it all before. They are all older, or retired scientists and academics. They are on top of all this, they are familiar with these issues and see it from their own particular specialty’s perspective. All grey haired or balding and nodding in agreement. We just look on, we are some of the youngest ones there and we are into our 60’s!

I’d better forget the cold, squally weather outside with a touch of sleet on the wind, that is blowing off the snow, stop winging, and get out there and plant those onion sets. I want to be as self-reliant in food as I can be. This isn’t even cold compared to some countries.
Time to get real and get on with it.
Self-reliance isn’t about comfort. I need to deliver those onions in the summer.
Best wishes from the (as-yet) non, GM-modified Steve and his hard-working organic girl.