The seasons seem to have changed quite a bit over the 44 years since we moved here. In the Southern Highlands we used to have 4 distinct seasons in the seventies. A proper winter of frosts with occasional snow, a hot summer and very pleasant spring and autumn. I understand that aboriginal society measured 6 seasons each year, while one gardening expert on the ABC Radio National was saying that he felt that there were 5 seasons. Whatever!Over our time here everything has changed, these days we seem to be having 9 months of summer and hardly any winter to speak of at all. We rarely have that many frosts now, just a few light ones and not that many overall.This winter we are having tomatoes still growing all through these mild, supposedly coldest months. Here they are still flowering in July. Alongside the cauliflowers.
It’s so strange to have both tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflowers in the same basket at harvest in the evening before we retreat inside to cook dinner.
There aren’t that many traditional recipes that call for this unseasonal combination. Cauliflower au gratin is a seasonal favourite, as is baked vegetables in a béchamel sauce.
The tomatoes get used in veggie stir fry, mostly vegetarian, sometimes with tofu, occasionally with a small amount of meat. other-times with some chicken and purple Congo potatoes. These are the last of our home grown potatoes. No more now until the new crop. We always cook with loads of our homegrown garlic. Then for a change, with homemade tomato ‘sugo’. This is of course completely out of season, that is why we make it each summer when the huge tomato glut is on . Preserving tomatoes as sugo or passata, gives extra life and ‘zing’ to almost any winter meal. There aren’t sufficient tomatoes in these cold months to make sauce, just enough to add interest in salads and stir frys.
Lamb shanks are always a nice comforting meal on a cold winters night.
Every now and then, I put a bit of effort in and make homemade ‘Gyoza’ or dumplings and sometimes sage leaves fried in butter and then finished in a creamy pasta sauce, just for a change.
Breakfast is usually porridge and or homemade muesli.
I vaguely remember reading Michael Pollan a decade ago writing about a healthy diet and he wrote something along these lines;Eat vegetables, mostly grains, only use meat occasionally as a flavouring. Don’t eat anything that has more than 5 syllables in its name, and nothing that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise. Never eat anything that doesn’t rot!
When we started this huge enterprise of the clean-up. We didn’t wait for the NSW Government to organise something for us. We got stuck in ourselves on day one. We had a lot of help and support from our friends. That really helped me get over the initial shock and depression. It’s still there and I’m still working on it, my next appointment with the shrink is on the 4th. She tells me that my anxiety and lack of sleep is probably related to PTSD. Part of the on-going clean up is dealing with the 16 tip truck loads of burnt bush and stumps. We had 16 big piles dumped on the southern side of the house site. We have been burning one pile a week since the beginning of winter, when the fire bans were lifted. We have cleared all the dead trees from around the house area, and a little further afield to where we store our fire wood. It’s important to prune and clear all these dead trees where we work, as they are constantly dropping bits of dead branches, not just in windy weather, but particularly on still days when we are out there working. They can crash down without warning. I don’t want to be hit by any falling limbs while I’m working. We cut up the logs into usable lengths that we will use to fire the kiln for the next few years.
All the smaller, twisted, dead and burnt detritus from the fire had to be burnt in discrete piles to be safe. We have been working on it intermittently for months now. Last week, we burnt the last pile. It consisted of mostly small stumps that hadn’t burnt fully in previous burn piles. These root balls don’t burn well because of all the soil and clay embedded in with the roots. The free burning wood all burns away leaving these lumps dispersed around the pile. Once isolated from the glowing embers, they go out and just sit there.
I spent last week pushing them around with the little tractor, collecting them all together. Janine and I would then spend the best part of the day setting into them with mattock and pick, to loosen the soil and rocks from around the roots. We can’t do this all day, it’s too heavy, so we do a bit at a time and them go back to raking up or chainsawing other wood. Then after a rest, we go back to the pick and mattock. Once the root balls are reduced in size and the weight is brought below 200 kgs, I can pick them up with the tractor bucket and drop them. This loosens more soil and so on. Once they are substantially relieved of their soil, I can place them on the smouldering ember pile and start off another day of burning stumps. The last fire went for 5 days in this way. working on collecting all the remnant root balls and removing soil, then piling them up for the next days burn. It’s mind numbingly dull work, but somehow pleasing to see the site finally get cleared up and the stumps gone.
After that effort there were still a number of very large logs and stumps that were beyond me and the efforts that I could muster using my toy tractor/mower. So when Ross came last week with his excavator, we got him to pile all the remaining extra large bits into a big pile and this should be our last big burn. We really need to get this done before the return of the fire bans at the beginning of spring in just a few weeks. I don’t want to have look at this depressing mess for another year. I’m hoping that we will get a bit of rain in spring, and with the warmth we might see a bit of greenery come back. All we have that is green is a few patches of moss or fungus that I have never seen before, presumably enriched by all the ash and nutrient from the fires.
The drosera is also coming back very well. I’m told that they can live for up to 50 years. They are a carnivorous plant that traps tiny insects on the sticky hairs on their surface.
It’s started raining, so will be working inside today. I have to put stickers with my initials, number and price on each of the pots for my virtual show at Kerrie Lowe Gallery starting next week.
Blue icy crackle glaze with post firing carbon inclusion and sooty patina.
A few weeks ago I was stealing time from the clean-up to put new wooden shafts in a few of my burnt and roasted heavy tools. Like masons lump hammer, pick and sledge.
This week we had the chance to get the excavator here for another day. Every plant operator in the district around here is fully employed in the clean-up. Our Good friend Ross rang and said he was fully booked, BUT, had a chance to get here for a day between other jobs, to help us finish the stone wall around the proposed new pottery site. We were thrilled. Spare earth moving equipment at any time around here is rare, and then to get access to it at a reasonable price is exceptional.
I am very keen to live a self-reliant life. I pride myself on having done almost all the trades around here over time. I only employ trades when it is required by law, – like electricians for instance. But, there are some jobs that are just too big for me to handle alone with my crow bar, chain blocks, tripod, little ute crane and toy tractor. Moving 1 tonne stones is one of them. My only way to handle these big sand stone floaters that I dug out of the vegetable garden area 20 years ago, was to get out the stone masonry tools and using a lot of small ‘gads’, to split the bigger stones into smaller pieces, so that I could lift them with my little tractor.
This has worked well in the past, when I wasn’t so pressed for time, but now that I’m flat out busy with the clean-up and re-construction. I just couldn’t find the time to cut and split all these stones. Hence, I was very pleased to see my good friend Ross turn up with his small excavator, to pick up the stones as they were and move them to the last little bit of the retaining wall that needed finishing.
The ‘natural’ shaped stones look a bit rough juxtaposed with the large cut blocks, but they are 100% local off our site here. I dug them out of the ground 20 years ago, when I cleared the land for the new vegetable garden. Working together, Ross and I managed to get both sides of the retaining wall done in one day.
We managed to move and place about 20 large sandstone floaters into position and back fill the site with soil and batter the edges into ramps, that will allow easy access by our zimmer frames and/or wheel chairs into the future.
This ground work is now complete and ready for the foundations of the new pottery. We finally got our building approval certificate from the local council on the first of this month and paid the deposit on the 5 different kit-form, metal framed, farm sheds.
Kit-form, metal framed, farm sheds are not my favourite buildings. I fact they are really pretty ugly in my opinion, dull, flat and boring. But they are cheap! At my age now. I can’t consider building from scratch on my own as an owner-builder, like we did in the early 80’s when we built the last pottery. So, I have decided to buy 5 different shapes, sizes and heights of farm sheds, then bolt them all together, like ‘Lego’, or more precisely, like ‘Mechano’! Such that we will end up with an unusual building with a bit of character. The plan is to have 3 of them in a row, all the same width, but with different heights, then to add two more at right angles, to make a ‘U’ shape and create a central courtyard. The last two will be different widths and heights to the others. One lower and the other higher. This will create a more organic and interesting shape or cluster. Rather than the usual long flat factory unit look that most of these metal sheds end up looking like, dull, boring and predictable. We anticipate getting started on the building in a few weeks time, as we are now in a queue, waiting for our kits to be manufactured at the factory.
I am well underway with the orchard’s bird proof netting frame.
When it is finished, it will cover 600 Sq, Metres of orchard, sufficient area to plant 30 fruit trees. This will give each fruit tree 20 sq. metres. This is more personal space than I am entitled to in a restaurant or shopping mall under the new Covid19 restrictions!
The other thing that we have been doing this last few weeks is working on the front fence, whenever we have a spare day. This project is now almost 3/4 done. A few weeks ago, before the recent increased restrictions, we had a group of potters here to help on the weekend. We managed to finish adding all the galvanised mesh to the metal framework on the last southern end of our new ceramic, fire resistant fence. Janine and I have been putting in the odd day here and there as time allows. It’s a good job to have sitting in the back ground, as I can pick it up where I left off at any time. However, I’ll be pleased when it is complete.
I seem to have ended up working on 4 jobs at once. This allows me to be always fully busy in making or fixing something all the time, even while I wait for parts to be delivered, or other stuff to turn up. Such is my life in these complex times. At least working hard like this alone keeps me self isolating safely. I’m constantly searching for cheap or frugal solutions to complex problems. For instance, Janine and I spent an hour, smashing up old bits of terra cotta with mallets, to make orange coloured gravel to add a detail to our ceramic wall. It was a dirty, dusty job, and our wrists ached afterwards, but it was worth the effort.
Another job I have been tackling over for the last month is the cleaning, sorting and selecting all the burnt pots that we were able to salvage from the ruins of our pottery and barn.
Almost every porcelain pot shattered, not too surprisingly! I only have one piece that has survived. It now lives in the kitchen.
The pots that did survive were all rougher stoneware bodies. Not too surprising there either.
I have spent the last few days documenting, cataloguing and labelling the best of them for my exhibition at Kerrie Lowe Gallery, opening online on the 31st July. All the pots will be physically present in the Gallery, but it will be a virtual show only, with no opening, due to the Covid19 restrictions.
If you are going into Sydney to buy ceramic supplies from Kerrie, you can see the pots in person, but you must follow Kerrie’s instructions about social distancing and numbers of customers allowed in the gallery at any one time. Check opening hours before turning up.
This is a lovely triptych that survived the inferno. It has a very satiny smooth guan-like glaze enhanced with a smokey patina and sooty crackle.
Someone recently told us that we shouldn’t be climbing up ladders after we turned 60!!!!!That was 8 years ago. I re-roofed the old pottery and re-guttered the barn, both shortly before they burnt in December.The barn is now re-roofed and re-guttered. I’ve spent a lot of time up ladders since then, cleaning gutters and doing all the various maintenance jobs.I own a lot of ladders. Different lengths and formats for different jobs, ranging from one to six metres long. I’m up and down all day. Good thing that I was only just told that I should have stopped all this almost a decade ago.
Recently I have been building a metal frame to hold up the 2nd hand and recycled, plastic, bird-proof netting, that was donated to us for the new orchard cover. This involved burying 100mm dia. metal posts in the ground to 600 mm deep and then installing cross-members between them, also 100mm. dia. I bought a truck load of 40 second hand metal pipes, 5.5m long that were recovered from the HMAS Melbourne before it was scrapped. They had been used as irrigation pipes before I got them. I only needed to cut off the thick reinforcing rings off the end of each pipe to get the joints to fit on the pipes.
Warren suggested that we should get orchard framing made into an olympic demonstration sport! I could see that these old pipes would work OK for my purposes, as they came with an assortment of 90 degree elbows and some ‘Tee’ section joints.The last part was to lift up 8m long galvanised steel beams, 100mm x 50mm. These were quite heavy and unwieldy. Because I’m cautious. I went out of my way to buy yet another ladder, this time a 3mm tall step ladder, so that I wouldn’t have to stand on the last top step of my biggest 2.4m. step ladder, to get those heavy beams up on top of the 3.5m. high pipework frame.
I thought that I was doing quite well for an old guy. This higher ladder gave me a much better and safer working position while I screwed all the beams down to the frame securely.Of course I didn’t attempt do this on my own. I had my best friend Warren here to help me.We got all the beams up in one day! I’m very leased with my new tall ladder. So much safer than standing on the top step of the shorter one.
Yesterday, while moving a little short step ladder in my workshop. I bumped a gas bottle and knocked a steel beam off a tall shelf.It came down on my head, splitting it open with lots of bright red sauce. I saw stars, but remained conscious on the floor. I managed to get myself to the house and Janine drove me to Emergency where I got 10 stitches in my head.Ladders are so dangerous! Especially those little short plastic ones.