Visitors to the Melliodora Apprentice Journal may have noticed a little bit change that has taken place.
Now that we have the talented Meg Ulman aka. Artist As Family in our offices providing regular updates on the day to day goings on here at Melliodora, you will notice less verbose blog entries from yours truly.
You can see Meg’s news blog at https://holmgren.com.au/category/news/
As for me, I will be more often providing updates from around the property here via my instagram feed which is a much more manageable format to work with out amongst the orchard, in the garden, in the gully and the local Melliodora surrounds.
Folding up little seed packets in your downtime is a great habit for seed saving!
Having a little packet to pop seeds in can be the difference between quickly taking that opportunity to grab some amazing seeds, and putting it in the too hard basket as your walking companions begin to loose patience and walk off on you!
I like to keep a bunch of packets with me in my camera bag wherever I go so that collecting seeds is friction free. Just write the name and date on the packet as you add them and you’ll be building a library of seeds in no time!
– Big thanks to Merili Simmer (one of the WWOOFers that visited Melliodora recently), for teaching me this great tip & for getting me moving on my excitement about seed saving!
It’s been dry here. Very very dry.
Today is one of the few days since I’ve been here that we’re getting a good rain (and thus a nice opportunity for a blog post).
The way one relates to rain is so starkly different from city to country. In the city, rain was an inconvenience, a reason to carry an umbrella. At it’s best it was an aesthetic comfort on a cozy day indoors.
But here on the farm, and amongst networks of growers, it’s a topic on the fore of everyones mind. How many millimeters of rain comes down makes such a massive impact on everyones livelihoods. When you’re growing food and it doesn’t rain, you must do the work of getting things watered. On hot sweltering days, you can’t really start watering until that big ball of intense heat subsides and stops sucking the moisture from the ground.
In the heat we’ve had here we’ve been losing on average about 6mm a day in evaporation! (This is something I need to remember to keep perspective when we do get some rain – 6mm of rain feels like a fairly decent amount, but really it is far from enough to be significant)
When the rain does come though, and when it sounds like real rain, it is a huge feeling of relief! Every cell in the body seems to relax.
Today was one of those days. No need to water this evening, nature has taken care of things for us!
I’m Mitch, the new apprentice here at Melliodora.
Although I began my apprenticeship back in September, I am just starting to feel I’m getting into the swing of things.
This first post, my self introduction has been a tricky one to write! Previous attempts at writing thus far have been scrunched and tossed into the virtual bin. Presenting one’s self is tricky in a time of transition. By way of a solution to this, I am going to do something unorthodox and tell you a slightly modified version of the first entry of my diary this year. It was the beginning of a new five year diary, and so it is an orientation to a new beginning, a reflection on a transitional period of my life; from being a freelance designer living in the city of Sydney, to free range human, connecting with nature and deeply immersing myself in learning the foundations of permaculture design.
I was recently asked to speak to a small Permaculture Design Course group about some of this story and it seemed to have resonated with people, so I hope you can find something in it too.
After a trip to New Zealand and 3 weeks in the forest in early 2014, something happened by way of a major paradigm shift in thinking about how I wanted to live. The seeds of this change were already there, but I reflect on this time as the time of germination.
3 weeks with no devices tethering me to the “giant brain” kind of awoke my consciousness and roused me from some kind of techno-slumber. I think it was the stark contrast that did the trick!
Prior to my time in the NZ, I had started up my own freelance user experience and service design consultancy business. This kind of design is used to create seamless and pleasurable experiences for users of technologies and services, ideally empowering them in the process. I had initially found this work thoroughly stimulating, but I began to become aware of the fact that I was spending a ridiculous amount of time attached to far too many screens. Digital technology had become a bit overwhelming. There were too many tabs open on my web browser, too many attention demanding notifications on my phone, and too many ever accumulating emails. From the moment I woke up in the morning to the time I went to sleep, and sometimes even interrupting my sleep during the night, I was glued to screens of various shapes and sizes.
I can recall one pattern of behaviour that was particularly beginning to indicate that things were out of hand. Sometimes I would compulsively pull out my phone for no reason at all… and sometimes I would pull it out with a reason, then forget what I was doing and get distracted by another task on my phone only to remember the initial reason when I had put the device back in my pocket… then i’d be back to the screen again. A competitive market place had created a very addictive technology, all vying for my brain space. I began to notice I had developed a damaging addiction and decided to call timeout. And somehow I knew instinctively that nature would provide just what I needed in order to heal.
Without the constant web connection and habitual techno-interaction, I really started to unwind, enabling space for me to think. The cogs began to move again.
I was made ill by the exact technology I was designing for other people. And with my design hat still firmly on (I’m not certain you can ever un-become a designer), I started to become acutely conscious of the super advanced nature of nature’s design. No man-made system or it’s counterparts have ever received so many iterations as nature. It is super advanced technology; truly design nirvana.
I loved and still do love design, but at the time I began to reflect at a fundamental level on my contribution to life…rather than using my energy to advance the connection between human and machine, I began to develop a strong feeling that I would prefer to use my energy toward helping humanity somehow rekindle it’s connection with nature. I didn’t exactly know how at the time, but this is the germ of an idea that has only grown stronger since then.
The day I arrived back in Sydney my dad kindly came to pick me up from the airport. It was morning, and it was peak hour. We got stuck in dense traffic. This was all too much to bear after my time away in paradise… I distinctly remember thinking, ‘why do people do this, this is absurd, wake up everybody, wake up!!!?’. The cogs continued moving and I started entertaining the idea that rather than returning to my work that I would instead break loose and continue the journey, make that more natural reality my life somehow.
A few days after my return I met an old friend who had taken up a new hobby of weaving on a loom using hand-spun fibres. We walked out into his inner city suburban backyard where he showed me a cotton shrub he was growing. It struck me that this was the very first time for me to see the actual source of the fabric that I made up most of my clothing. It made me feel a bit angry and slightly ashamed. This was but one of a growing pool of experiences whereby I discovered a critical source of my livelihood at far too old an age. I was angry at myself for my lack of earlier inquisitiveness, and at the culture I had been born into that did not value this kind of knowledge enough.
Already primed for change, I confirmed then and there that I would continue my journey into nature, making it an urgent priority. I had wasted far too much precious time not knowing about the living world that existed between the cracks of the city and suburban worlds I had inhabited.
Two weeks later, I was off into the countryside, beginning the journey I am still on to this day.
It is now close to two years since that pivotal time in my life. Since then, I have visited and WWOOFed (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) at a number of properties and communities looking for alternative ways of living with the aim to get wide angle view of options before getting settled anywhere. After New Zealand, I travelled through countryside NSW, Victoria, and then Japan and Korea. Ironically it was close to the beginning of these travels that I discovered permaculture and found it ticked so many of the right boxes for me.
Whilst travelling through Victoria, I came to WWOOF at Melliodora which had been quite a mind-blowing experience. It had significantly helped me in re-framing, and progressing some thoughts I had long been stuck on, including the concept of ‘appropriate technology’ which has helped me find balance with technology after pendulum swinging from radical adoption to radical rejection. It has also inspired me to get back to basics on a lot of important topics and school myself on many apparent knowledge gaps.
Most significantly however, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief in knowing that I had finally found an excellent approach to that thorny old question, “how can I live in this world in a way that provides for my livelihood without doing so at the expense of other’s livelihoods and that of the environment?”. Here at Melliodora I found one viable answer to this question, a functioning model of a lifestyle that i could see myself very happily living.
I knew then that if I could ever find the opportunity to return and spend some time to absorb more, I would. Thankfully that opportunity came, and now here I am. Sometimes the universe can be really obliging! Thanks universe!
Nowadays while I feel an acute awareness of the magnitude of learning journey I am embarking on, I also feel assured in the knowledge that what I am learning about is real. The real real, not abstracted fossil fuelled techno gadgetry that will be obsolete next year.
Every day I am learning so much, and through this blog I am hoping to share some of my sense of wonder in the things I am learning while I am here. Sometimes I’m sure some of you might roll your eyes and say, “wow, he didn’t even know that!!?” but I hope also that sometimes you might be as surprised as me and learn something new too!
I’d really love to hear from you as well, so please say hi, wish me luck, share ideas, suggestions, stories, tell us of your journey, or tell us a joke…whatever you feel like! It would be great just to know there’s someone out there reading along.
Very much looking forward to sharing my journey with you in the year ahead!
Spring is here, we’ve had some amazing sunny days and preparing garden beds and sowing seeds is well underway. Last week I planted the first tray of seedlings in the greenhouse, they are coming along nicely and I’ve just planted a second one. We use a heat pad under the earliest seedling trays to warm the soil and get a head start. Earlier this week we had 3 interns/wwoofers arrive, including Matteo who was here earlier in the year. We have got many garden beds ready for planting and some things planted already and I’m feeling very good about the state of the garden. In the picture above, holes dug, filled with compost and soil mounded back on top to plant pumpkins in. Mulch from green manure crop has been left between mounds but mounds left bare with cut glass bottles on top to warm soil before planting. Newly constructed bamboo trellis in front of greenhouse will have beans growing up it once the soil warms, lettuce seedlings planted in front of where the beans will be. The concrete blocks from the base of the greenhouse and open sun exposure will keep the lettuces warmer then other spots in the garden.
Daffodils are a great plant to go under fruit trees. They provide dense cover and shade out potential competition then die back when it starts to warm up and dry out, leaving a layer of mulch behind and minimal competition to the tree.
Appropriate technology is a word that can cover a lot of tools from scythes to computers, portable electric fences to grain grinders, generally an item that creates a big difference with minimal energetic cost and footprint. I consider chainsaws to be appropriate technology in many ways and we’ve just acquired a second hand Stihl 192t pruning chainsaw. This saw, capable of being used one handed, is absolutely amazing and fits this property so well. I got the saw in non working order and after an hour or two in the workshop I was off and away.
After getting used to the saw pruning an Acacia that was hanging over a garden bed from a ladder I quickly moved on to some long awaited willow pruning. 3 of the biggest willow trees on the property needed their tops taken off and/or or major limbs removed, some to allow easterly light into the new building and one to free up light to some nut trees. This job will also keep new growth shoots within closer reach and make it easier to cut animal fodder during the growing season with loppers or a pole saw. The 2 things I didn’t have right the first time up that have made a huge difference are: 1. getting the Idle set right so that the saw can be started from a comfortable and safe position with the chain brake on, then move to sawing position and turn lock off with engine still running and 2. getting a carabiner attached to my belt with some rope so that a tree can be climbed with saw hanging from belt and then easily unhooked and re hooked when needed.
These saws are very useful on established properties with existing trees, especially capable of making a huge difference in modern suberbs, where huge trees tower over houses and gardens, taking away any ability for solar gain from houses or the ability to grow food in an environment with so much potential.
In other news, the root vegies and brassicas in the garden are ticking along (at a very slow pace) and the broad beans (favas) are just starting to shoot up after a weed with a hoe and quick complimentary hand weed at the base of the plants (handweed done after picture was taken) . Lots of big salads at the moment from a combination of planted greens and weeds and self sown cultivars. A few sunny days and about a week with little rain gave us some good time with dry enough soil to hoe in some green manure crops and do a lot of weeding, giving us a little head start on spring planting.
We’ve been experimenting with different uses of chestnuts. We had a big chestnut crop this year and managed to keep most of them from the birds. We had lots and lots for breakfast every morning (and sometimes for dinner) for a couple of months while they were fresh, we stored them in plastic buckets with a damp cloth over them to keep the fresh ones from drying out but still give them some air so they didn’t rot. Then what we couldn’t eat fresh we dried, and that brings us to now. In midwinter we’ve got out the dried chestnuts and started figuring out the easiest ways to process them. We have approximately 20 kilos of dried ones and could dry more in the future once good processing methods are established. The best solution we’ve come up with so far for the home scale is this: thresh them in a grain sack, hit the bag on wood, flail it around, then move the nuts around with your hands from the outside of the bag and repeat a few times. Doing this removes most of the shells and some of the pellicles (the tannin filled skin under the shell) then a quick hand sort to remove all the shells and then put them in a pot and steam for a few minutes. After steaming the pellicle easily slides off with a quick rub of the hands. The pellicle is very hydrophobic, not absorbing any water while the nut absorbs the moisture and swells, This both helps to remove them and means that with a short steam the liquid does not absorb tannin and stays sweet. After removing the pellicle, a long boil softens them up and turns them into a delicious treat. Something about the starches and sugars of the chestnuts make them much sweeter after being dried and boiled compared to fresh roasted. They make an amazing dessert served with bottled fruit, especially sour plums to contrast the sweetness.
This image shows the edge theory well and shows some layering. On the right is the top orchard row with apple trees (the closest, most visible tree is a recent addition) interplanted with acacias for nitrogen fixation and goat fodder. To the left is a seedling plum hedgerow, cut back frequently and used primarily for goat fodder though we do occasionally eat the plums and make preserves with them. They are not of the same quality as some of the cultivars elsewhere on the property. In the foreground is a metal stand used to hold goat fodder. On the high side of the plum hedgerow is a path (not visible in photo) and above that olive trees and the vibrant green towering loquat trees. The house is uphill from the loquat and olives. This image is taken facing south of the slope, to the west of the house. In the distance you can see the eucalypt (blue gum) shelterbelt.
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