It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a small holding in the black, must surely be growing a patch of drugs. That universal truth or question was actually posed to me a few weeks ago by my now former hairdresser – let’s call him Mr Darcy (not his real name).
I have to confess that, at first I was rather annoyed by the question posed to me by Mr Darcy. However, as time passed, I became less annoyed by the question and more curious as to why he posed that question and what it actually meant. A cheeky friend helpfully suggested that Mr Darcy was perhaps looking for a supplier, and all I can add to my friend’s witty observation is that we shall never know the truth of that particular matter! There was something about the question that intrigued me as I felt that there was a deeper truth hidden within it, but for a while I couldn’t quite come to grips with that deeper truth. Ever since the question was posed to me, I have been turning it over and over in my mind, until I came to a reasonable understanding of those deeper truths.
The day that I had my haircut was a beautiful spring day and I was in good spirits. The sun was shining and the weather was sweet. I’d only just completed my visit to the Queen Victoria Market on the outskirts of the Central Business District of Melbourne. I usually visit that market once every two months or so to purchase all of the fruit and vegetables that I can’t grow here. As an example, it is way too cold to grow peanuts here, and besides when we did try growing them, Poopy the Pomeranian (who is actually a Swedish Lapphund), dug them all up and ate them!
What were we talking about? Oh, that’s right: A beautiful spring day. It was a weekday and I arrived at the hairdresser early and they were running a little bit late. I was in no hurry at all, and so I sat in the chair by the window at the hairdresser and watched all of the people walking past on the street and wondered about their stories. I was also savouring the expectation of a coffee after the haircut and possibly after that, a quality hamburger. My gut would soon be filled with quality food and drink and all was good with the world. It was only when the question was posed to me by Mr Darcy that a small dark cloud entered into my consciousness.
In its most blunt terms, Mr Darcy’s question was highlighting to me that there is a public perception that it is not possible to make a reasonable income derived from the land on a small holding, and therefore, I must be up to some sort of illegal and also possibly very profitable business here. My conduct elicited so many fascinating questions such as: It was an expensive haircut after all; how was I enjoying it during the week; how did I pay for it; and why was I so relaxed? These were all good questions and honestly, I’d heard Mr Darcy’s trope before from other people, so I felt that I could no longer ignore the deeper truths which people were communicating to me.
Arable land in Australia is very expensive. Arable, is a fancy word which means that you can readily grow crops on that land i.e. the land is fertile. The cheapest land available, whether you are leasing or buying – like the block of land that I live on – is usually cheap because it is not arable. The climate may be perfect, the rainfall may be regular, but if the land is not arable, then you will be very unlikely to be able to readily grow crops. I understood this problem when I purchased this block of land as I knew there was no top soil at all here. This lack of fertility in land can be fixed by many different means, but it takes time and also resources such as compost and/or mulch. Some of those resources, such as, compost can be free (for example Green Manure crops) if you have the time. However, if you have either a lease or a mortgage to pay for the use of that land, then you may be under pressure to grow something to sell straight away so as to pay for your lease or mortgage. That is not a good situation.
As an insight to the readers here, I reckon over the past decade, we have distributed over 500 cubic metres (650 cubic yards) of mulch and/or compost onto this land so as to restore the soil fertility. It sounds like a lot, but in reality, it is about one cubic per week over that long period of time.
Even if you somehow managed to obtain your land cost free, you then have to consider what crops you are going to grow and who as well as how, are you going to sell all of that produce? Those questions are no small matters. For example this past winter because of the excellent rainfall, I had a huge crop of lemons. There have been hundreds of lemon fruits grown here this year. Lemons generally sell at the market for about $1 each and that equates into hundreds of dollars of income. However, that small income of only a couple of hundreds of dollars of fruit sales during winter is not going to cover any average lease or mortgage payments. And that completely ignores the initial purchase and expense of feeding and maintaining all of those fruit trees during their long and productive lives.
However, if you were to consume those lemons and/or find a productive use for the lemons, then you would not have to purchase other food stuffs from an external source which requires money (which has to be earned). I have been converting those lemons into lemon wine and also feeding them to the chickens and they have been enjoying about 5 lemons per day for the past few months.
The Mr Darcy character of the Jane Austen story, Pride and Prejudice could well afford a mansion. That character was clearly full of money. Most of the rest of us mere mortals are clearly not full of money, but many of us aspire to live in, purchase, or build a mansion. Last week, I outed myself as a fan of the long running television show: Grand Designs UK. It is a great show and has been running for 17 years now. No doubt Mr Darcy (the original one not the hairdresser one) would have wanted to have been on the show! One of the core themes expressed in that show is that people design houses that are far too big, and generally when that happens the individuals run over budget and end up in debt. In one particular stand out show, the male of the household was an accountant, and the family eventually ended up with apparently 11 different forms of debt just to pay for the construction. I am an accountant and I didn’t even know that there were 11 different forms of debt available to an individual! It was an impressive feat, but the larger question is: Was it worth it?
A smaller house is cheaper to construct, cheaper to keep warm, easier to clean, and cheaper to maintain when it inevitably requires maintenance. People tend to understand those concepts in an intuitive sense but then fail to implement them in their own lives. And there is nothing inherently wrong with those alternative choices as long as they can afford them.
As Mr Darcy (of this story - the pretender) was cutting my hair and we were chatting away, he was also clearly doing the calculations in his head. And to him those calculations lead him to ask me his rather inappropriate question. I was so floored by his question that I never really had the chance to explain to him that: We purchased a very cheap block of land that nobody else wanted; We built a small house using our sweat labour; We obtain a lot of energy and water from the resources on this block of land; and we try to consume as much produce as we can which is grown on this farm. It really is that simple.
Well, it isn’t really that simple. The weather here this spring has been so variable (massive swings between hot and cold weather) that the tomato seedlings have died after planting them out, not once, not twice, but three times! This week the editor and I held an emergency tomato summit and discussed the various options for the tomatoes this season.
|Tomato cam tells no lies and this is one sad sorry tale of tomato flies and death and stuff (thanks Mariah!)|
|The tomato enclosure has had a good quantity of composted woody mulch placed between the existing rows so as to keep the soil warm|
In the event that all of the tomato seeds and seedlings die, then I guess there is always the local native tomato equivalent (which is also in the Nightshade plant family) which is a Kangaroo Apple. Unfortunately, that plant, although it is in the same plant family as tomatoes, the edible fruit tastes like soap to me…
|A large Kangaroo apple (purple flowers) is enjoying the conditions and should produce a bumper crop of soap tasting, but edible fruit|
|Toothy gets the double cream, whilst Scritchy the boss dog looks on and moves in for the kill|
|Scritchy gets what Scritchy wants|
|Scritchy and I spotted a huge toad here last week|
|Sir Scruffy performs his best impersonation of a wet mop as the weather turned ugly|
|A dragonfly was sheltering under the dry veranda as the rain fell and the winds howled|
|One of the two large branches which almost dropped into the orchard over the past few weeks|
|The author cuts up one of the recently fallen massive tree branches into usable firewood lengths|
|This little borage plant has begun to rapidly regrow since it was chopped and dropped|
|The few apricots that I have growing on the many trees here are starting to swell and ripen|
|The almonds are growing better this season than ever before!|
|The rain added to the cold conditions has meant that the otherwise hardy peaches and nectarine fruit trees have succumbed to curly leaf|
|The older of the two asparagus beds has begun to regrow new spears since we cut it back hard last week|
|A white sapote fruit tree which lost its leaves during the winter has begun to regrow those leaves|
|This rhododendron next to a sugar maple is putting on a good show of flowers|
|Bearded irises are some of the showiest flowers around!|