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Communing with plants in the abundance of harvest

Gratitude to plants.

This is not a wafty, throwaway praise. This is an embodied knowing, a deeply felt thank you for the living, growing, seeding, podding, storing and shitting of plants. For their many giving parts.

Whether plants are in their own autonomy, in relationship with measureless earth others, or requiring peoples’ union to thrive, plants embody the feminine divine. Mother Country is the vessel in which all things are brewed, hotly or coldly, and plants are often the very fibres that enable the alchemy of such fermentations throughout life, into death and back across into life.

They are encasements of nourishment, wisdom holders, inebriation agents and great revealers.

But so much plant living has been violated by industrial food, energy and medicine capitalisms. Plants have been incarcerated, mined and used as gratuitous commodities. When welded to the dominant culture we devour them, we’re never fully satisfied, never fully full. Why? Is it our relationship with plants has radically changed under the spell and ideology of modernity’s project?

We have never had more food available to us in our short time as a species, but is it in this glut that gluttony occurs? That we are unfulfilled?

So many of the capitalisms that exploit plants are greenwashing capitalisms. Biofuels are the obvious example, but almost all uses of plants are a form of enslavement, within the machine of hypertechnocivility.

Domesticating plants, it has long been said, is the story of our own domestication. This is not always the same story as the process of becoming hypertechnocivil – that is, so industrialised to think we are the only species worth feeding – our food automated and chugged into cities, from where anthropocentrism powers over all life.

However, if we open to the ritual possibilities, the medicinal, magical and teaching properties of plants, can we call on our more expansive selves – the broader, mythological, transformative and cosmological potentialities of our selves – to take hold in our daily actions and processes?

This, we’ve found, is more possible when our foods, energies and medicines come from the gentle labours of our creaturely bodies. When we are ecological participants in loved biomes. When we are creatures of place. A loved homeplace.

When we walk for the plant gifts that make our lives possible, we cannot but step into the magical and divine realms of plants. From such a place both abundance and gratitude flow. We, people, can once again co-union with plants. It is deep in our cultural DNA that we live this way. It is lifemaking connected to ancestors. It refuses the severings of modernity.

Highly cultivated plants such as grapes thrive in conditions where people yearly prune their radical vines. In turn people thrive by eating the fruits created by the goddess herself.

Borlotti beans don’t need highly cultivated soil as they fix nitrogen in the earth and bring fertility to any earthly biome. Their colours delight us in the sun, under which we dry them to store for winter fuel.

Basil loves the full brunt of summer’s heat – a powerful herb and food medicine destined for almond pesto.

Ella, one of this week’s volunteers at Tree Elbow, communes with prune plums. We all delight in this prunus variety, also destined to be dried for winter’s cellaring and eating.

Volunteer Beau works alongside Blackwood with spelt from Burrum Biodynamics to alchemise this old grain into pasta to join the almond basil pesto for dinner.

Patrick sets up a tree net to catch acorns for their harvesting, thus stopping the midnight clang of hard little nuts landing on the water tank and waking the underworlders sleeping nearby.

Blackwood demonstrates his method of acorn shelling to his family and volunteers, using a nut cracker. Acorn meal will be used with spelt for winter pancakes and for the brewing of Patrick’s acorn beer (a recipe which can be found at the end of his re:)Fermenting culture book).

It has been a week of communing with plants, glowing in the gratitude of abundance, and savouring this time of harvest with volunteers and visitors, including Jess from Canada, who like Beau and Ella brought a joyful spirit to Tree Elbow.

The week finished with Wild Fennel – our local herbal medicine circle led by local witches, Catie and Zoe. Their beautifully facilitated plant medicine circle elegantly brought us all into deeper presence with the holy Tulsi, while we were warmed by the equinox fire in the garden at Tree Elbow.

A special thank you to Jordan for the pic of the plant circle, Catie and Zoe for the love and for the crafting back of the peoples’ medicine, and to Beau and Ella for your loving attention and joyous labours this week as SWAPs.

If you’d like to listen to a conversation between Catie and Patrick, tune into this episode of Reskillience.

We look forward to hearing from you which plant or plants you are present to right now. What herbal teas or medicine plant foods are you most grateful for? What is your latest herbal/harvest discovery?

Artist as Family’s Book of Neopeasantry (second excerpt)

 

October 18
Meg

I’ve been meaning to check on them for ages and after work today I finally do. I take the tea towel off the bucket that’s been sitting under the fermenting table and realise I’ve left it too late. A 20-litre bucket of Jerusalem artichokes with a plate on top to keep them submerged under the brine. There is a thick crust of mould, and all of the pickles have gone soft. I’m so disappointed, and I curse myself for not putting a reminder in the calendar to check it earlier, as I usually do.

I scoop the mould off the top and feel around with my hand all through the bucket and find one big one that may be salvageable. It smells fine, so I give it a quick rinse and take a bite but it’s not as firm as I hope. I put it back in the bucket and carry the soft gloopy mess down off the deck, through the muddy swales and into the chicken coop to the very back corner and dump the whole lot there among 15 years of rotten down mouldy ferments.

When I come back up to the house Patrick asks me where I tipped them and I tell him.

‘Onto my midden of failures.’

 

 

October 23
Patrick

A plunge in the cold water tank, nude tea drinking by the fire, loft steps lovemaking, followed by more tea, reading out to each other the missives from thoughtsmiths and journos we subscribe to on Substack.

Blackwood wakes around nine and we ride our bikes up to the Sunday market. A sign catches my eye as we pass through town, ‘Relaxation Massage – $40 for 30 minutes.’ I’d seen the sign before but never given it a thought. Our usual cohort of body healers are not currently available, and I don’t see Kris for a massage in exchange for gardening, until Friday.

We continue onto the market and I buy a banana passionfruit vine from Florian, one of the organic growers there. Banana passionfruit are the only fruit ripe at this time of year and I’m determined to keep this one frost protected until it grows hardy.

I chat with Florian and later with Edward, another grower who grows without chemicals. Meg and Blackwood wander around the market, yarning with people, looking for old tools and useful things like containers filled with an assortment of nails and screws.

On the way home riding in convoy I notice the massage sign again, and feeling the pain rising in my back I call out to Meg and Blackwood, ‘See you at home, I’ll see if I can get a treatment.’

I cross the road and roll my bike down a little lane and walk into the reception area. The lady says she is available and takes my card and charges me $49. I feel as though I missed something in the exchange. English isn’t her first language and Mandarin isn’t mine. She shows me into the room, and leaves me there to undress. She returns as I’m laying on my stomach with a towel across my body. She asks whether I want my legs and buttocks done. ‘My back is what’s really hurting me,’ I reply.

Before I know it she has removed my underpants. Well, that’s pretty weird. I have the feeling again as though I have missed something. She uses her hands, elbows and forearms to work my tight back muscles. I begin to relax and breathe deeply in and out through my nose.

After about twenty minutes she asks me to turn over and places the towel back over my body. She speaks again, something about a ‘special’ and taps me on my groin. Oh, I realise, it’s this kind of massage parlour. ‘No thanks,’ I say, ‘but thanks for asking.’

She works my legs and arms and I lay there thinking about how unattached and pragmatic she is. My thought drifts to all the lonely men in the district starved of intimacy, starved of touch, where this service would at least be some kind of connection. I feel pangs of grief for all people who don’t have intimacy in their lives, which leads on to a wave of gratitude for the diversity of love and touch I receive each day.

After 30 minutes she thanks me and leaves the room. I put my farming clothes back on my farming body. No one is in the reception. There’s a ghostly feeling as I leave. It’s not exactly what I went in for, but there’s a little relief in my back.

I gently ride home and share my adventure with Meg. ‘Wow,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know such a thing existed in Daylesford.’ We laugh at how naive we are. Blackwood is in the workshop cleaning up rusted steel blades from old hedge trimmers he bought at the market.

‘Were you tempted?’ Meg asks me, grinning.

~

The post-supermarket homefront (nearly a decade on)

Hello spring! What a flowering we’ve had this year! So much fruit set. Yippee!!
Some of our activities in the garden at this time of year include picking off the cabbage moth larvae to feed to the chooks (thanks Meg!), feeding weed tea to the onions (thanks Woody!), and cutting off the frost burnt leaves on the potatoes (thanks Patrick!).

All our produce ends up in the kitchen and much lands on the fermenting table, which is Meg’s shrine to our household’s health. We call this the Pandoran hub of the house, after Pandora, known since early Greece as the goddess of fermentation, hope and insight – who Patrick calls, in his latest book, the healing goddess of the underworld of our gut. The gut is where 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is produced in our body. These are the happy chemicals essential for a good life. Give the body microbiome-killing industrial food and medicine and you have a significant problem, individually and culturally.

Here’s an example of Pandora’s goodly alchemistry performed by Meg. In this homemade apple cider vinegar made last autumn there are many beneficial herbs and weeds from the garden including: rosemary, coriander, dandelion, plantain, mallow, horseradish leaf, lemon thyme, calendula, hawthorn berries, rosehips, parsley and sheep sorrel. You can look up the benefits of each of these plants using that old thing, the Internet. Be sure to cross reference and go to peer reviewed papers if they exist. Otherwise trust your gut. She knows. Each plant contains vital minerals and nutrients, and the vinegar helps extract the minerals otherwise locked up. We use a little of this brew each time in salad dressings.

Meg’s raw milk cheeses are another form of wild fermented goodness. We don’t eat much animal protein, but adding this contraband local material into the mix of our life certainly adds a cow-kick punch to our week. Thank you gentle creatures of field and herb.

At this time of the year the cellar is becoming depleted, but there’s still something delicious to find on each journey into this other Pandoran underworld. Bottles such as our former SWAP, Marta’s Polish pears, or our dried plums, toms and citrus, or Meg’s raw wild fermented soft cheese balls preserved in olive oil with herbs.

So many of the processes and activities we carry out each day offer an array of learning moments, but play is equally as important.

If Woody wants to jump on the trampoline he does so, but fairly soon he’ll come over and say, “Can I have a job.” Sun drying herbs is probably not a labour that takes his fancy, so he’ll probably opt for the trampoline before lunchtime.

Speaking of which. Lunch is probably our favourite meal. A typical lunch? Patrick’s wild and slow fermented 100% spelt sourdough with sprouted lentils, Meg’s veggie spread (tahini, miso paste, olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic), her famous three-cornered garlic kraut, and her semi-hard raw milk, wild fermented cheese. Fit for any aspiring neopeasant. Yes, we know, this is all sounding so Portlandia. For a laugh we call it Daylesfordia, but the radicalism of how we live is not to be scoffed at. Just try us. We do all this well below the poverty line, and while our agency springs from two generations of privilege, the future for us is found in emulating the ecological intelligences of our peasant and indigenous ancestors. We make the bold gut claim that if everyone in the West lived with similar simple nourishment and low carbon lifeways we’d seriously mitigate the effects of climate change, obliterate pollution and species extinction and reduce many human health pathologies produced by unchecked modernity. Yes, it’s a big claim, and too big to go further into here, but we will happily chew your ear off, lock horns or swap knowledges with you if that’s your thing… Warning: trolls will be composted. Mmmm. Time for lunch.

This spring Patrick has built the outdoor kitchen in time for summer. Here he checks that the bread tins fit in the oven below.

Patrick has also just finished the greenhouse, with the help this year of SWAPs Connor, Marta and Jeremy. The suspended worm farm that sits under the bench catches all the drips and keeps the worms moist and happy. It’s really great having the worms so close to the kitchen. Scraps are either thrown out the window to the chooks or given to the worms. Gravity fed everything!

Water recycling has also required a lot of thinking this year, and as a result we are 100% water off-grid. All waste water is now directed into the garden at multiple points, gravity fed.

We continue our commitment to car-free living, although of late we’ve had to borrow a car here and there to go look for our gut-damaged teen Zeph and his best friend, trouble. Zeph’s rebellion has been to eat toxic corporatised food and drink. The inflammatory results have been startling, and extremely unsettling. Collecting wood on foot and on bikes, never over-harvesting but taking fire-prone buildups of fallen branches keeps us fit and healthy, and our carbon footprint very low. This wood cooks, dries, heats, bakes, boils, brews, roasts, toasts and generally keeps us warm and nurtured. We no longer need the appliances that do all those things. Year after year we live with less and less.

We daily clean out the wood stoves and sort the potash from the charcoal, using both useful products in the home and garden. The potash is returned to the perennial parts of the garden and the forest from where we pick fruits and mushrooms, and the char we crush and pee onto to activate before we use it in the annual beds. Unactivated charcoal can take up nitrogen out of the soil and therefore can negate plant growth. By activating it you get a slow release fertiliser.

We use sawdust from a local mill to sprinkle on our poo. The black hole (below right) is a bucket of charcoal for wee. In making humanure it is important to separate the urine from the faeces, otherwise it gets too nitrogeny and therefore stinky. Patrick made this dry composting toilet system which can either be used as a squat or conventional sit toilet, for less than $100. If we had to do it by the book it would have cost more like $10,000 rendering it impossible for us to make the change. The EPA approved systems are good, especially if you don’t understand the science of composting poo, but if you follow basic principles all you really need is a bucket, sawdust, compost bays and patience. We estimate we now save 20,000 lt of water a year by removing the old flush toilet. That’s 20,000 lt extra we can put on the garden and grow some decent food.

Building more humanure composting bays has been a priority with all the extra goodies going into our closed loop system. We have three humanure toilets now and plenty of visitors. Reclaiming old pallets and building bays into an existing wall makes this a straight forward and cost neutral operation.

The result: fertility of the highest order. We rate humanure as the best compost we’ve ever made.

Woody is wood obsessed. Every day he has a relationship with trees, timbers and various tools. Whittling,

chopping,

and playing.

This has been a brief snapshot of our lives this spring. A tremendously big warm thank you goes to Mara Ripani for the photos. A big congrats to Connor and Marta who are getting married in Feb. They met at Tree Elbow and fell in love.

A more detailed account of our lives and a manifesto of how we live can be read in Patrick’s forthcoming book, re:)Fermenting culture: a return to insight through gut logic. You are all most welcome to visit our garden at Tree Elbow and join us to warm this book into existence in a few weeks time. There will be tastings of our ferments, music and readings.

We are also now hosting regular house and garden tours. The last one for the year will take place Sunday Nov 19, 1.30 – 4.30pm. $30 per person. There are still a few places available. Contact us for more details.

Into the glean and scene of 2017

We ended 2016 with a community garden working bee with mates,

cleaning off graffiti from around the town (that one of us thought was a good idea to do at the time),

building a new squat compost loo with SWAP, Isobel,

going for a little ride,

to spend the summer solstice at Melliodora with neo-peasant and permie mates,

advertising for our first SWAP-intern suitable to work with the whole family, particularly Zeph,

and carried on with forest work and play,

until the year was done and we gathered with various friends and other community groups to celebrate the new year.

 Our little ensemble of community gardeners won best ‘float’, despite our on-foot-ness.

The next day, with our Milkwood mates, we were very floaty when we heard the news of our win ($500 to the community gardens to grow more free food).
This year we’ve been welcoming Connor into our family. Connor was chosen to be our first SWAP-intern. Within days it was like this remarkable young man has been with us for years.
And we’ve been blessed with more wonderful SWAPs coming to live and learn with us. Hello Anna!

And hello Marta!

We went out of town with our mate Pete to collect some locally grown and milled timber. We’re going to build a number of things in the next few months.

With friends Mara, Kirsten and Kat we made a banner,

which will be used each year to mark January 26, terra nullius day at the Daylesford Town Hall.

We’ve been doing little fermenting experiments and loving the results.

Actually, Connor doesn’t need elderflower cider to fool around in the gloaming.

Connor and Marta have been hanging out working together, riding the tandem and generally keeping the home fires burning.

Because it’s a time of storing,

food forestry and many people staying,

pumpkins, citrus and kiwi fruiting,

honey making,

poultry growing,

appling,

learning,

keeping the mice numbers down,

and more storing.

Collecting materials from building sites, the tip, and having friends who gift large doors and windows (thanks Nicko and Elle), has enabled the planning of the north-facing greenhouse.

Our home is a busy mess of multiple projects, ferments and general productivity. We’re using the excessive affluence of industrial civilisation to transition to low-money, low-carbon lifeways before inevitable decline or collapse.

Prepare now or struggle later is our motto, and what we’ve found in the meantime is a more joyous, meaningful form of life making.

Summer time harvesting, writing, communing

It’s been a time of great harvest, probably the best fruit season for a decade. All this food is free from a combination of street trees, neighbours and or our own garden.

It has been a time of writing, bringing our book together for a looming deadline.

A time of getting to know Maarten and Marlies and share skills in the garden as they spend a fortnight with us.

A time of preserving, stewing, fermenting and drying,

A time of making bread.

A time of making plum wine.

A time to work together.

A time to shovel shit. Thanks Mara!

A time to pull weeds. Thanks Ayumi, Maarten and Batiste!

A time to observe those more-than-human.

And a time to be photographed by Jay Town and written about by Rebekah Cavanagh.

Our first month home has been quite a time of adjustment. Although we are loving being back in our climate zone and among our community and all the free food of summer, we still miss life on the road. There is nothing quite like waking each morning and having nothing to think about except the day ahead.

Under the sunshine of the day

We haven’t stopped riding, of course. We rode several kms out of town to go and camp with our friends Fe and Ant and their little sproglets Luna and Fabrizio. 

We walked across the road to join more friends for a BBQ and raid their vertical berry patch. Thanks Luke and Kate!

For Meg’s birthday we rode out to her sister Kate’s family farm for a delicious dinner of home-made pasta and babka birthday cake. The best!

We went to Melbourne to tell our story to national breakfast TV.

They wanted to know what challenges we faced and what it was like to eat roadkill.

Back at home we wanted to know what living in Japan was like post Fukushima. Yae Fujimoto, Rick Tanaka and Hiro Fujimoto gave us an insight into the reality of living with nuclear reactors. Thanks HRN for organising this event.

From our own region’s non-radioactive orchards we collected more apples. Some for juice, some for stew, some for cider, some for drying and some more for the chooks.

We’ve also been busy preserving, dehydrating, brewing and fermenting various stores for winter. 
Meg and Woody experimented with flaxseed crackers,

in the dehydrator. Pretty bloody good!

Zeph and Jasper got the old billycart back up and running,

before Zeph took himself off to religio-military school.

Wide lawns, narrow minds, as one Australian artist recently exhibited. Please keep hold of yourself Zeph, as you venture into this experiment with patriarchal institutionalisation.

Zeph spent his last weeks of home-education hanging out with friends, helping with the gardening, being a big brother and working on his bike.

Then it was time for our first Critical Mass ride for the year.

Followed by a small intimate gig at the Albert Street community garden with this guy,

and his partner Hayley Egan. We archived excerpts from the ride and the gig into this little vid:

We’ve also been pickling walnuts that we gleaned green from street and backyard trees,

and sowing companion plants, carrots and alliums, in a new raised bed made specifically for winter crops.

Whatever you’re making, Dear Reader, we hope it is bringing you nourishment and fulfilment, that you’re not working too hard and you have days in your week to lounge and muse and make love under the sunshine of the day.