COUNTRY NOTES

Winter Wonders

With the end of autumn coming along way too quickly we are bracing ourselves for what it is said to be a cold winter this year in Kyneton.  Our winters are usually quite cold, but for me, like all the other seasons, I am always looking forward to the change. I love the low hanging fog and the short days. The crisp cold afternoons and the smell of open fires across the paddocks.

With all the fruit trees bare and the vegetable garden greens all looking crisp and fresh, I think that there is no better time to put your feet up and do like the bears (and bees), and hibernate. Winter for me is a time to catch up. Without the pull of the garden, the beautiful sunny skies and the long days to enjoy, there is any amount of excuses to head into the warm. I love soup, so as the temperature drops, the soup pot comes out and the hiss of the pressure cooker is a usual acoustic in in our house. The nourishing vegetables from the garden and pulses are always a welcomed meal when cold hands need warming and stomachs need feeding. 

Our fire is on all day and night as it is our only form of heating. It is a lovely clean heat and seems to keep the house at a not overbearingly hot temperature. The wood challenge usually starts though from early autumn in the country and everything (even the wood) gets brought in closer and closer to the house. The logs start piling up around the doors and under shelter to keep dry as the rain sets in for the season. I am lucky to have a husband who is a doer and has stored enough wood over the past few years for it to be seen from the moon! The basic human comforts and need to be warm definitely brings out the survival instincts in all of us, but in winter that motivation is put into first gear. Country life for many people sounds quaint and pretty, and let me tell you it truly is, in spring, autumn and summer. However in Winter, the attraction of trudging out in freezing temperatures in soaked, muddy boots to collect wet wood, then trying to light a fire with it, is definitely not found on too many ‘Country Living’ brochures! The pre-planning and hard jolly work of autumn pays dividends and the preparation is a measure for success (and snuggly comfort) with a roaring fire and a hot cup of tea.

Across the paddocks there is an eerie silence in winter. The sheep and lambs are brought, like everything else, closer in to the house to protect. Throughout the year our view of Macedon Ranges and the mountains beyond is an ever changing and magnificent landscape. In autumn the Poplars are magnificent and blaze fiery reds, oranges and turmeric yellows. On wintery days a weighty fog covers the mountains like a fluffy blanket. Wrapped in layers of greys and whites. The shades and silence creates a space of peace and serenity. Foggy arms and cold winter winds creep into my coat, not unpleasant but very present is the earthly energy that reminds me of the power of the seasons. The cold wind takes my breath away and with tingly red fingers the most direct path takes me back indoors into the warmth of the fire and comforts of home.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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Glorious Autumn

What a glorious time of year. Autumn is my favourite season of the year with the bright blue skies and the cooler days. The countryside transforms into a magnificent landscape. With the trees turning gold, the sunburnt grass turning a lush green scattered with piles of oranges and purple leaves. I love the mornings the most when your breath is foggy and the whole world seems to smell of open fires and earthiness.  

Over the past few weeks we have been crazy busy bringing in our vegetables and fruit for winter storing. There is a constant bank of jars being washed and packed with jams, preserves and chutneys piling up around every conceivable surface until I get a chance to find a home for it.

On some days the stove is on all day with every usable pot bubbling away with jam, relish, chutney or steaming the Fowlers jars until they seal tight. It was a sharp learning curve when we came to the country trying to learn the best ways to get the best out of the farms produce and limiting any possible waste. I was fortunate to learn from the best (my Mum) when starting out. She worked with me teaching me how to use the water bath and the Fowlers jars to navigate the minefield of ‘not to dos’. The result though is a satisfying cupboard full of delicious fruit that lasts the whole winter season. When fresh vegetables are often not available or flown in from far flung countries, it is comforting to know that you only have to open the cupboard and a locally produced, organic food is at your fingertips.

There is a growing community of people who are not only embracing the preservation of home grown produce but are also happy to share their knowledge of how easy it is to cover the basics. Whether it is growing your own tomatoes to bottle and make sauce to making your own bread, and creating your own garden beds for your vegetables. There are tons of courses available to teach you how to make everything from fermented foods to your own cheeses. I was very lucky to have been given a copy of the book Grown and Gathered this Christmas and highly recommend it to anyone who has a notion of self-sufficiency. There is a lot of work and time spent getting the fundamentals right but like anything worth-while, the end result pays a high value of time well spent.

This weekend our basil has been frozen and made into delicious Pesto. We have just planted our garlic and broccoli and are waiting until the last sunny day before the frosts begin to pick all our capsicums and chillies. It is so heartbreaking to see the result of frost on the crisp chillies that it is sometimes worth picking them a little earlier to avoid the soggy, water-logged damage of a mornings frost. My figs have been late to ripen and I have been picking as many as I can as they soften to freeze or make into fig, lemon and ginger jam. The bench still has an array of zucchinis, peppers and nashi pears in big baskets and next year I think I may need to take a week off work just to get all of my produce ready for winter. I often feel like an artist in Paris and that around every corner there is something stealing my attention to paint and the need to capture. Every tree we have producing something magnificent every year. The thought of walking away from it and letting the fruit fall to the ground is inconceivable to me. I give away so much to friends and family but feel so much joy immersing myself in its magic and natural beauty. Creating new recipes with every season. This weekend I will clear out the last of the tomatoes to make a mixed red and green tomato relish. I wish I could share the smells from my kitchen with you. The sweet spices and sharp vinegar and sound of bubbling pots, the warmth of the wood fire and comfort of the country kitchen. There is always so much to do, but it is never a chore. This is what I love the most about the seasons in the country, there is always something to look forward to.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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LOST TRADES AND FOUND PASSION

It definitely feels like these days “Old” is the new “New”. The days of an era nearly forgotten where people made things by hand and we repaired and treasured rather than replaced and recycled may not have all been forgotten. Our generation has definitely found a place in their hearts for reverting back to some of the ideals of our grandparent’s time. 

Last weekend, Kyneton played host to nearly 17,000 guests at the Annual Lost Trades Fair. The Kyneton Racecourse was flooded with enthusiastic onlookers of trades and skills that have stood the test of time. Some that have nearly faced extinction. The crowd enjoyed the tools put in motion for everything from silversmiths, coopers, barrel makers, chair makers, stone masons, plasterers, spinners, weavers, knife makers, cobblers, armourers, farriers and musical instrument makers to name only a few. It was two days of witnessing inspiring talents across an array of mediums. More so it was an illustration from one stand to another of the sheer dedication and heart-felt commitment to their trade. A commitment that for some has lasted a life time and for others has become a life quest.

Being dedicated to your passion is not always an easy road, actually, it is really never an easy road.

When technology is at its fastest rate of innovation and we are looking in the face of virtual reality, why are we embracing raw skills that go against modern technology? Surely technology has made the creation of shoes and woollen jumpers so easy that in the time it takes to knit one jumper by hand, a modern textile factory or shoe manufacturer has knocked out thousands. Being dedicated to your passion takes commitment, because when there are so many easy ways to create something faster, cheaper and in greater quantity, its value is lessoned.  Which, for most manufacturers, is exactly the point. However to a craftsperson, it is the time taken to create that defines its value, its imperfections create its iniquity and the fact that each one will be one of a kind, the individual value will only increase. So why are so many of us choosing to own less and go back to buying things that last?

Watching my husband build dry stone walls, piece by piece is pure art in itself. The pieces are never uniform but together, when the wall is complete, each face is perfect with every stone unique. The variety of the colours from the stone blend together and a practical thing of beauty has been created. The very process of building the wall takes a lot longer than any other method, but the results are very different.  If you have ever travelled through the Cotswolds in England, they are testament to how long a good wall can last.

For me this weekend was also a strong reminder of why we decided to choose to live in the country. We make virtually everything we eat, from the food we grow. We cook all our meals from food that doesn’t come in a packet. Our gardens are tended with love and that takes time and a commitment that a lot of people don’t have. Which is why the modern supermarket definitely has its place. It is true, however that what you put in you definitely get out, especially when you are growing food. So my passion of growing food is not a lost trade, but it is definitely one that requires dedication. My wonky cucumbers and individually crazy shaped zucchinis are not works of art, but they are definitely a lot tastier than the mass produced versions. Thank you to all the crazy, dedicated, amazingly talented craftspeople this weekend for sharing their talents and their creations and for giving us all a gentle reminder that less is definitely more.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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NET PROFIT

If you plan on visiting Kyneton any time soon, you are likely to have a variation of Summer to Autumn to Winter in the one week, sometimes in the one day! The usual crisp, dry heat of summer has been toned down this year with intermittent showers and humidity and some very chilly days. It has been so different to previous years, that the plants, trees and even we don’t really know what to expect next. Usually the grass is brown, the earth is radiating heat from a long day of scorching sunshine and the fruit smells slightly roasted as you pass the trees.  However this year, the grass it still green, the cold weather has slowed the ripening process of the fruit but the rain has created an abundance of fruit on all of our trees.

The birds are so well fed around our area that they have no really started feasting on our trees just yet. However the scattered kernels on the ground are tell-tale signs that they have been taste testing our nectarines which made me spring in to action this weekend to defend all the nearly ripe fruit from the greedy birds. Well ‘spring’ is probably a slight exaggeration. It was more like a foot dragging, teenage strop approach to getting the nets on the trees. 

Netting the fruit trees is one of my least favourite jobs on the farm. I know that there are some fancy new and innovative inventions that make tree netting a whole lot easier, however we are still using the old nets from circa 1960 and about twenty miles of baling twine. The physical challenge for me (being 5ft nothing) and getting the nets over the large, established trees without taking off all of the fruit is quite vast. My clever Mum donated a whole tool shed of old rakes and brooms and covered the ends of them with blankets to help with lifting the nets without getting everything tangled. It is comedy magic watching me try to throw a net over a tree and it falling in a heap only a foot away (and then stomping, there is an awful lot of stomping). Although these trusty long rakes have made it a lot easier, it still takes a great deal of grunt and a few choice words to get the nets snugly over the trees. Yesterday was the chosen day of netting so I embraced my inner giant and armed with some old nets, the bailing twine and my clever tools, I got started on the job. I tackled the Nashi Pear tree first. Grabbing the net from the cherry tree which is a similar size the guess work was done and I managed to get it all tied up within an hour. One done and 54 trees to go! After the 5th tree I started to question (a) how much I liked the fruit and (b) how much I thought the birds would like the fruit. By the 7th tree I was marching around squeezing the fruit and making an executive decision that as it was nowhere near ripe yet, the nets could wait. At somewhere around the 10th tree my husband stood back amused as I hurled the rakes over the trees like a javelin in an attempt to get the nets to miraculously fly over the tops of the trees with the speared rake and tie itself around the tree.  In reality that didn’t happen.

Kyneton is known for many things, food, wine, old gold mining town and mostly for its wind. The wind here is notorious and when it decides to blow a gale the only thing we can do is batten down the hatches and hold on to our hats. I haven’t mentioned yet that yesterday was also particularly windy. So much so that at once stage as I was hanging on to the net, the wind picked up the whole thing and virtually did the job for me. Up and over the tree went the net as I hung on for dear life to anchor one side to the tree. Whiplashed by the branches and hoping that the fruit would stay on the tree and not blow off after all the effort I was putting in to getting these jolly nets on, I managed to tie the knots and stand back in utter appreciation of my own handy work (andof course the winds).

My arms ached and the inner giant in me was off hiding in a corner somewhere with the bailing twine. So some more choice words and I untangled the nets and retreated inside for a well-earned cup of tea.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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SEA CHANGE

Every year we move the Beacheys from the country to the beach. It is our annual escape where we leave the phones on silent, take some good books, a cricket bat, beach paraphernalia and a full (and I mean full) carload of stuff for one week. We always anticipate that we will return with half the contents of the car, but usually end up with bags on our knees and under the kid’s feet on the return journey. Last year we went north and this year we took the easy plan and travelled an hour and a half from Kyneton to beautiful Ocean Grove. An hour and a half is a lot preferable to 9 hours in a car with two little people. This year everyone still liked each other when we pulled in to the driveway of our holiday house for the week.

As soon as the car was unpacked we headed directly to the beach and clothes and all the kids went straight in to the sea. The sheer joy on their faces showed what we both felt and as we breathed in the salty air, our shoulders dropped and the holiday began.

It always feels strange when I look at our life here in Kyneton, surrounded by an idyllic setting, mountain ranges, fruit trees and a wonderful life, and still feel the need to escape. It feels like wanting to escape Eden. But as humans even too much of a good thing is still too much. Last year we both worked pretty hard in our jobs up until Santa was ringing his bell on Christmas Eve. Then the jobs around the farm had their equal share of 99% of our time so when our week at the beach came around the sorry 1% came with us dragging its poor, sad and tired little legs behind it waving a flag saying, please… just… let… me… sleep.    

We have learnt since being on the farm that there are times when to remember what you absolutely love about your life in this space, that you need to leave it for a little while. Not long, but even a day away makes you remember what you long to return home for and to. Our family is not just the two legged variety but also our furry, feathered and wild friends around us and we miss them all terribly when we are away. Our space, our community and our peace and quiet is a treasured commodity. Even the kids came home and said ‘oh Mummy, I missed our water’, it is a simple life we have but a very loved and treasured one. Sometimes when you are at home and in the mayhem of kids, life, work and deadlines it is difficult to remember what you love and what to be thankful for. Stepping away from the routine of everything and into another environment is the break I think people talk about.  

My second favourite place beside inside a cuddle of my babies and hubby is the beach. I unwind instantly feeling the waves synchronising with my breathing. The waves taking out each and every worry into its vastness with a new breath to follow. Sinking in to the sand and listening to the different sounds. Exchanging Kookaburras for Seagulls, mountains for waves, rolling paddocks for sand dunes. It is good for the soul and a great way to refresh for the New Year.

Pulling back into our old dirt road, the dust billowing beside the car door we are pleased to be home.

As Dorothy says, ‘there is no place like home’.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE

There has been a buzz in the air around our farm over the past two months. In the middle of November we finally filled our newly painted Flohive with a nucleus of baby bees and a beautiful Queen. The idea of our fruit trees and vegetable plants being visited by our bees seems to make the whole pollenate, grow and eat cycle complete. The bees being the much needed addition to our beautiful garden. The excitement of getting the nucleus became a reality as we drove out to a remote part of country Victoria to collect them. The wise and experienced old Beekeeper took one look at our shiny new hive and said ‘what do you call that then?’ then as I described what it was he added ‘well I hope you are a good runner because the bloke who sold you that contraption must have been fast when he took your money!’.  My confidence waned a little but my enthusiasm was steadfast and as I said to him ‘even the best inventions evolve over time’. He was too busy bashing the bees into the new box to listen, but as he was suited up and I wasn’t I took a couple of steps back and let the expert do his thing. I jokingly asked ‘Well I hope the Queen made it in there’, and without a heartbeat he replied ‘well you will soon find out I guess’.

Welcome to the new-bee!! Well I took the introduction on the chin and with our girls safely stored in the box drove home and relocated them into their new position in a shaded and protected part of the farm. We took a lot of direction from one of our favourite honey suppliers Rob who we met at the Kyneton Farmers Market. Rob is an experienced and passionate Beekeeper who is more than happy to openly share his wisdom with new starters like us. He has popped in and not only checked the location and given me tips in their on-boarding, but has also come back to check on their progress. He is super supportive and with the responsibility of a whole hive of bees, I really didn’t want to get it wrong or put the girls in any danger while getting their new home all set up. So his support has been invaluable.

Two months on and the activity has increased around the hive tenfold. They are no longer little baby bees and are rather large and very active around the garden. There is a definite buzz and as I have been changing their water and feeding them I have noticed their activity and size on the upward tilt. The sound is incredible and watching them as I have given myself the opportunity to do makes you realise where ‘busy as a bee’ comes from. They truly do not stop. They all seem to have a clear idea of what their role is and off they go, in and out of the hive working until the sun goes down. Our neighbours have also noticed a new presence in their gardens and upon reading further learnt that bees travel up to 2km for food from their hive. It is amazing! I am admiring them from a far at this stage though and must admit I haven’t quite got up the courage to lift the lid on their activity to see how they are. I know I have to and will get some bottle and suit up and have a look this week. 

I am sure once I see the honey flowing that it will all be worth it and the nerves will be a thing of the past! The Flohive is hopefully the first of more hives for our garden and love that in our anticipation of harvesting beautiful fresh, organic honey we are also doing our bit for our bee buddies in the garden.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/pages/From-Sirens-to-Silence/515576425185523


CHRISTMAS GRATITUDE

It is hard to believe that we are at the end of 2016 already. Five years ago we were boarding a plane with 2 babies and a 20ft container of our worldly possessions were on their way to Australia. We have changed our lives beyond recognition and learnt so much along the way. There has been a lot of looking to the heavens, and even more of appreciating the sunsets. There has been some stamping feet on the ground in frustration and a bit more of kneeling in the dirt and growing beautiful things. Our family is constantly growing with more chickens, dogs, sheep, cows, and bees. We grow as they do and the seasons teach us to sometimes stop and other times to work faster. There is balance in everything.

Christmas is the time when you remember times like these and when you look around you and remember all of the people who have touched your lives. We are all on a journey and often this time of year represents the year and how you have spent the days, the months and seasons. It can be a happy time or sometimes it can be a hard time, but it is during this time of reflection that know which path to take next.

This year I have learnt a lot about gratitude. Even in the ‘feet stamping’ times when I was tired, my seedlings had all died, we lost animals that we loved and the cockatoos ate all of my almonds, I had to remind myself to look beyond the now and back to the bigger picture. The mountains, the open skies, the fresh air and the beauty of everything that is constantly changing and growing around us. Gratitude is a magic wand for me. There is always something to feel grateful for. I feel that Christmas is also about generosity. There is nothing that fills your heart more than giving or paying it forward. The pace that our lives seem to run sometimes leaves very little time to look up let alone look ‘out’ for someone else. Generosity isn’t about money. What I have learnt living in the country and living in one of the biggest cities in the world is it is about kindness. Giving your time. Giving a smile, taking someone a cake or giving them a hug. The Christmas spirit is really about this and started a long time ago in the stories of the bible in a manger when two people needed generosity the most. It lives today in so many ways in the acts of kindness that people give to others. 

I hope your Christmas and holidays are about growing beautiful things; memories, laughter, happy times with those you love.  I hope that your days over the holidays are spent well and fill your hearts.

We are sending you all our love for a happy, safe and wonderful Christmas.

See you next year

Xxxx

Jen

We treasure each day and each other and never forget our friends and family scattered throughout the world. We send you all love, laughter, happiness and health and hope the coming year brings you times that you treasure, and memories that you will never forget. xxxx

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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IT'S STARTING TO FEEL A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS

The Christmas season seems to creep up on me every year like a barefooted pixie. Before you know it however, the supermarkets have the Christmas tunes on rotation and the tinsel is on every surface and the fake snow is making your nose twitch. I don’t know, I can’t help but miss the dark, cold winter days in the UK leading up to Christmas. There is something not quite right about Santa in board shorts and I am not just talking about his midriff. Dark nights walking along Carnaby Street in London was always my first glimpse of Christmas with the giant baubles hanging in the street, the decorations and lights lining Piccadilly Circus and the shops brilliant with sparkles and Christmas tunes blaring (even if that meant a bit too much Maria Carey). Every coffee brand would bring out gingerbread syrup to add into their hot mugs of coffee and staying indoors and eating (like it was an Olympic sport) just seemed right. Summer and snow obviously doesn’t go hand in hand like an open fire and the chill of the Christmas washed away by a warm mulled wine. But we do have a lot to look forward to and a whole lot to be thankful for over in sunny Australia this time of year. 

Our Christmas day here in Australia is always spent with family, the bigger the better and it is always lovely when we have guests drop in, travellers or anyone who needs a very loud and over catering family to hang out with. One year we even had a random dog join the party after the unseasonal thunder storm made the poor thing run for its life into my sister back yard. We were having a family photo at the time and as the chairs went flying and a wet, terrified golden retriever ran through the flash went off and the faces and memories were priceless. 

For me it is all about the food and seeing family. This year we are spending Christmas day with my lovely little sister, but for the past few years it has been a very country Christmas with all the produce from the farm proudly served for lunch. I start writing recipes and tearing out ideas from the 1st of January and it is always my favourite time to dig out family favourites, make the 20 fruit cakes and reminisce about the fun around food that our family has always treasured. My gorgeous Mum always had a sense of community around this time of year. When we were growing up we would spend the weekend before Christmas Eve making home-made confectionery for our neighbours. Marshmallow, toffee, tablet (an old Scottish fudge), coconut ice, rumballs. Shortbread and truffles were all put together in beautiful packs and delivered to our elderly neighbours. We lived in rural Victoria then and the delivery was really such a treat and created a feeling of Christmas spirit that still to this day makes me smile. The smiles on the recipient’s faces filled with gratitude and love was all we needed. This is what country life and of course Christmas is all about. When thinking about what Christmas meant to me and what I should write in my article I was sitting with my 5 year old daughter. “What does Christmas mean to you Freya?”  Without a pause this is what she said;

“Well Mummy it is all about seeing my family and friends,

Getting to play with my cousins,

Giving Santa beer and the reindeers carrots,

Waking up and feeling happy that Santa hasn’t got stuck up our chimney and

Giving my Mummy and Daddy a hug”

Sometimes I wish that we could all remember what it was like to be 5 and what is truly important at Christmas.  I am sending you all love, blessings, peace and wonderment for your Christmas, however you choose to spend it.  XXXX  

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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FRUITCAKE FOR THE SHOW

Well it is that time of year again when the excitement bubbles up to a rapid boil and the 156th Kyneton Agricultural Show hits the town! 

Every year I say to myself that I should take it easy this show and to try not to go too overboard with the entries. However, I love so much about the show, and the combination of baking, preserving, creating, growing, and a good dollop of healthy competition gets me into a little frenzy. Once the little red schedule book is delivered the judging sections are highlighted and the planning begins. Inevitably over excitement also begins. Before I know it, I am driving at speed with jars of preserves precariously positioned between my knees, kid’s paintings covering the backseat, Lego creations strategically positioned and with my left hand I am holding onto a tray with cookies, slices, a pav and a fruit cake. The corners are taken with determination and precision and bumps in the road are given tuts and glares. However once the creations are delivered to the amazing ladies behind the desk and the entry forms are relinquished, then the decisions are over to the powers that be. Or I like to refer to them as the WOKS (Wonderful Organisers of the Kyneton Show). With a backwards glance, and a small prayer I relax and eagerly wait with anticipation for the big day. 

I do love the Kyneton Show, It is not only the participation but it is also the community spirit that not only embraces the annual event but makes it an event to remember. 

Since living in Kyneton we have introduced family members and friends to the annual event and now they come from miles around to share the show. It is a day worth sharing too. Weather permitting and it is usually shines for us, there is so much for everyone to do. From the rides and show bags on one side of the oval through to vintage bike displays, entertainment, adventure rides for the kids and the annual Tiny Tots Beauty parade. We see animals, roll our sleeves up for some craft, ride horses, climb on the CFA truck and last year there was even a flying fox that was an absolute hit with the kids. The football oval is awash with happy kids, noise and laughter.

Not unlike Christmas morning the kids are up early and ready to leave the house by 6am! We are the early birds through the gate, the kids pole-vaulting with excitement! The first place we head to is The Pavilion. Getting there early is a must as having time to check out every entry and note the prizes and accolades is the part of the show that I enjoy the most. Row after row of talent is showcased at this event and as I journey the isles, I recognise name after name of local Mums, Dads and Kids. You soon realise that Kyneton is abundant with amazingly talented and creative people who really embrace their community and are proud of their abilities. As varied as we all are, there is a common link of pride and unity in our little town. Supporting the local show as we support each other and celebrating a country spirit that is precious. 

We are so proud to be a part of our community and appreciate the effort of so many volunteers who put their time into such great events that bring the town together. It is amazing to watch our kids greet their friends and make their own place in the community. The energy soon wears out and as we walk out of the gates, carrying tired kids with happy faces and sticky hands we know that it has been another successful show. It is time to start planning for next year, I will try not to get too excited!

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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SUCH A BUZZ

I cant remember a time when the grass was a lush, dark green and the tanks were full in early spring. This year the rain has been relentless and a blessing in the same downpour. Our tanks are full and the animals are happy. We have long, lush grass and green leaves, blossom and over flowing dams. The feeling of abundance surrounds us. The sunshine has taken join custody with the rain and seems to only get visiting rights on a Monday and the occasional ‘pop in’ over the weekend. I remember so many of my posts when I am complaining about the heat, and the cracked earth and this time I remind myself that nothing stays the same for very long. The temperature changes, the wind blows strong and with the rain can come hail or snow or sunshine. It is Australia after all and owns the absolute prerogative to change her mind.

So with the flowers in bloom, I also decided to let the vegetable garden bloom as well and have watched with wonder at the beautiful yellow flowers of the broccoli and kale plants climbing up to the heavens. The brassica have all been amazing this year and we should be looking like Popeye with all the leafy goodness we have been blessed with over the past few months. I have loved watching how the broccoli just keeps on growing and as fast as you pick it another shoot comes through.

Our exciting ulterior motive for the blossoming garden has also been the introduction of our amazing new FloHive that we have been storing in anticipation for this time of year. We have our hive and are waiting for our new bee family to arrive any day now. I am slightly nervous and very excited to start learning more about bee keeping and how to nurture one of earth’s most important inhabitants. In reading more about the life of bees I am becoming more and more passionate about the protection of our bees. They have such an important role with protecting the balance of plants and life’s cycle of pollination with our food that why wouldn’t we all have a hive and reap not only the bi product of magnificent honey but the knowledge that you are helping one of the hardest working little insects on the planet.

We have been seeing a lot of bees around the farm with the flowers in full bloom. Their paws (is that the right word) covered with fluffy nectar from the flowers. No sooner had I found one and tried to follow it on its busy work day than it disappeared from sight. Such is their work ethic that I felt the need to have a celebratory hard earned cup of tea and a lie down to recuperate. I really am excited about the FloHive and it seems that other more experienced Beekeepers are as well. I can’t help but notice that since our discussions about all things honey that the local experts are not just hard workers (like their bees) but they are the most giving and inclusive of ‘experts’ that I have ever met. The mere mention of keeping bees and an Apiarists want to get you up and running in the right way and make sure you have the information you need. I guess looking after these magnificent creatures is a buzz!! We are looking forward to being part of yet another community within this glorious community of Kyneton and also be able to add a little bit of security to the bees of the world too.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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RAINING GLORY!

You have to be careful what you ask for. The constant requests from last years’ draught for rain has definitely been answered. In a big way! The dams are full, the roads are flooded and we have acquired an Olympic length swimming pool in our front paddock. The local family of ducks are thrilled and the paddocks are looking lush and green for the first time in a long time. Walking through the paddocks at the moment is sludgy to say the least. Stepping in puddles may result in losing a gumboot or at worst doing an impression of the wicked witch in the Wizard Of Oz and disappearing up the neck in a puddle with a woollen hat left floating on the surface!

It has been a jolly cold winter with heavy frosts up here in Kyneton with even a few days of snow which as exciting as it was a bit like the Census guy and didn’t stick around for very long. The frosts are beautiful and even though I am sure the vegetables are not thrilled about them, they all seem to bounce back quite quickly once the sun comes out. It is beautiful to see the magnificence of creation through out every season. To catch the frost crystals first thing in the morning with their intricate patterns of delicate ice lace across the leaves is like looking at art created by a mystical source. The beauty untouchable unless you want your finger to stick to a very cold broccoli leaf. Up at the veggie patch I have padded my beautiful chickens up with as much straw as possible to keep them warm in the cold winter nights. I have added bay leaves, rosemary leaves and sage leaves for some natural aromas and their ability to make the warmth of the coup a little less inviting for creepy crawlies. They have made their appreciation felt with beautiful yellow eggs all through winter. I often collect them in the morning while they are still warm in their nests and carry them like fragile gifts back to the kitchen for breakfast.

The year is ticking along way too fast and even though the arctic winds seem to fly steady and fast across from the mountains, I can see signs of spring very near. Our first trees to show optimism is our glorious almond trees. Every year their dark, grey limbs move silently in the chill, blown about appearing ancient and knotted. Then like a phoenix from the ashes they start to bud again and blossom into magnificent white, delicate flowers. Every year I find it incredible that they endure so much then fight back to produce such beauty, then delicious almonds. The same magnificence is repeated throughout the garden and orchard with hidden treasures waiting, ready for the first days of sunshine and warmth to show their new beginnings. Dormant, bare and cold the limbs seem to lay waiting, patient and old as they have been doing for so many years. The longer days and sunlight the only relief they need to once again start creating, growing and thriving. I feel so blessed to watch life all around us here in the country with the new lambs, the buds on the trees and the shift in the landscape that throughout the seasons always seem to remain beautiful and always breath taking.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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SUNSHINE

4 years ago I was living in South East London spending my weekends at Borough Market admiring seasonal vegetables and sampling the charcuterie of France and the wines of Tuscany. The very idea of living on a small farm in Central Victoria paving our way to self-sufficiency would have been laughable. 4 years later here I’ve left the corporate world of Soho and traded my Vivienne Westwood shoes for Wellies.  The 5 day journey starts slap bang in the middle of winter… and of course… in lambing season.

Day 1. The mist rolls across the mountains and paddocks like Scottish Moors. The location is in fact Kyneton, Central Victoria our farm nestled in front of Mount Macedon. It’s been an extremely cold winter this year with a lot more rain than we expected. The days are dark and the wind, in typical Kyneton fashion feels arctic. It’s a beautiful scene across the paddocks with our fat bellied sheep peacefully grazing. We have brought them closer to the farmhouse in fear of the dreaded foxes and to assist where necessary in their imminent labour.  After a sub-zero week we have made a makeshift pen to keep them closer together and safe. Our hearts are full of anticipation but also trepidation with the only too real prospect of what can happen to our ewes with natural, weather and predator challenges close by.

Day 2. The paddocks glisten with the morning frost and our first very clever Mamma has given birth in minus 2 degrees with a healthy little lamb snuggled safely under her woolly belly. We feel relieved that the makeshift pen has kept her safe and the other ewes comfortable. The farming world is full of chances and quite a bit of heartbreak. The finest thread that Mother Nature gives us between life and death is held with a huge amount of respect. By the end of the day we had another set of twin lambs born. After a positive start the mother confused by the twins had favoured one and I held the little soul while it faded away late in the evening. I am not sure if it is being a Mother myself or just the human will to fight for life, but I feel like every animal we have deserves the greatest start in life and so often feel devastated when I put up my dukes to Mother Nature and she wins.

Day 3. I woke this morning and wondered if it would have been easier to brave the Northern Line tube journey in London and have my face planted in a tall man’s armpit for 45 minutes rather than face another day of lambing. At least I would have finished off the day with a glass of champagne in my hand rather than a bottle filled with lamb’s formula and jeans covered in poo. I know I have been through child birth, but mud wrestling pregnant ewes to keep them safe was not on my wish list! I’ve stopped looking at my ski jacket originally bought at Selfridges for the Swiss slopes as anything other than practical these days… and yes it is also covered in lamb’s poo.

Day 4. I arrived home a little later than usual this evening and did my usual journey to put the chickens away and check on the sheep. It was already dark and has been raining solidly for the past two days. My natural instincts were on high alert, it was a full moon and the sheep were all huddled together. I noticed a little mound on its own in the mud and couldn’t quite make out if it was a rock or a lamb. The grey mound was very still and my heart raced as I jumped the fence to check. As I got closer I saw that it had only just been born, but it was cold and losing its fight for life. After losing the last lamb two days ago I was determined to do everything I could to save it. I had enlisted the support of more experienced farmers and been given the 101 of newborn survival. I’m as stubborn as an Ox and believe that every animal deserves a chance. I ran the bath and carefully placed the frozen little body into the water, as the warmth gathered around the lamb the mud flowed. The newborn was still wet to touch and my heart fell to think that the Ewe had somehow forgotten her baby in amongst the rainstorm. The next 30 minutes were crucial and as I kneeled beside the bath gently moving the little arms and legs in the warming water, I could feel the heartbeat getting stronger. The fight was on between Mother Nature and myself and I was slowly beginning to feel that I was in with a fighting chance. My sleeves rolled up and my clothes sodden with mud I wrapped the tiny figure in a towel, and surrounded it with heat pillows and warm blankets in an old laundry basket. Midnight came and went and it was 4am when I heard the faintest bleat coming from the laundry basket. I reached in and felt a warm and strong heart pounding beneath the ribs of Sunshine. After a hearty breakfast of lamb’s milk infused with multi-vitamins, I started breathing again. Confident but not waving a victory flag… just yet.

Day 5.  My 5 year old called our newest survivor Sunshine. Her shiny black eyes and black fluffy coat is a blessed sight. She skates around our floor like she is wearing roller skates but is always within millimetre of my feet and her next feed. We can only take one day at a time but are forever thankful of the opportunities we get to help nature do its job.  

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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IT IS DEFINITELY WINTER OUT HERE IN COUNTRY KYNETON

It is definitely winter out here in country Kyneton. The rain seems to be travelling across from the mountains like spray from the ocean, fierce and fast. The mountains themselves have nearly all disappeared in a foggy haze under low hung clouds. It is days like today that I feel like I am back in London. The darkness that comes way too early in the day and the timelessness of the winter season that mingles morning, afternoon and evening into one grey mass. I actually reminisce about these days with fondness in my heart. There was something about the winter in the UK that created a feeling of comfort, warmth and the need to hibernate. The dark little pubs scattered across the country and cities were a haven for travellers and locals alike and had probably been standing for more than a hundred years. Open fires, heavy wooden beams and low ceilings all brought the relief from the snow, rain, hail and cold and kept it well outside. I could see how once people entered these oddly named establishments (The hole in the wall, the horse and hound, the pig and whistle etc) the warm ales, strong whisky and home cooked English tucker that it was very hard to find a reason to go back outside until closing time.

Speaking of English tucker, the food that I crave in the cold months is typical common fare in the UK. Rib warmers they call them; hot soups, mash potato, home cooked pies and stews. Warming hearty meals that make you feel good from the feet up. I have a pot of soup permanently on the stove this time of year. As I work away, the hiss of the pressure cooker works its magic and the aroma of the soup wafts through the house. It is tempting to stay rugged up in doors for the duration of the day (or for weeks) but braving the garden and the elements, the return back indoors with cold hands for a warm bowl of soup as a reward is well worth it.

My garlic and onions are coming up well. The retirement of the zucchini and tomatoes for the season made room to plant more onions and leeks. In my excitement I bought three punnets of seedlings only to realise there were already about 100 seedlings in each punnet (well it certainly felt like it after planting all three punnets). Each and every vegetable box now has leaks snuck in to every corner. They are keeping everyone company including the carrots, the parsnips, the broccoli and the cauliflower. I am glad that they freeze well as they will be a noticeable addition in everything I cook for the next 12 months! A couple of months ago when I planted the onion seeds the kids asked to help. I have been here before and love the enthusiasm of my budding gardeners a lot more than I love their delivery.  With heightened levels of excitement onion seeds were thrown in every direction around the beds and patted down with tiny little hands. I am all for encouraging them in this department and have to quash my OCD tendencies and not push every single seed back into the carefully dug trenches. The end result was interesting to say the least. There were clumps of onions growing up all over the patch (none of them in any line or formation). More interesting was a huge patch of what looked like dill coming up in the middle like an island of fluffy green shoots.  I decided I would wait a bit before trying to move them only to find that a packet of carrot seeds had been scattered around in a very uniform circle and lovingly clumped together. Nothing is irretrievable and with a few hours of relocating the seedlings we had the beds all re-sown and the nice neat rows of onions reinstated. My pulse rate slowed and my control issues dealt with.

Early this month we had some pretty impressive frosts. What was left in the garden from Autumn ticking along nicely was immediately killed off.  The soggy leaves of the tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and basil showed that they are definitely not winter vegetables. I gathered what was left of the peppers and any redeemable basil I could find hidden under the parsley and dried them by the fire for the store cupboard. It made me remember for next year to do this before Jack Frost comes to visit. I have had a few friends in the area ask about frost cover for the vegetables and as far as I can tell the winter veg don’t mind a bit of frost however if you have others (like my poor jalapenos) out in the garden then early June is a great time in Central Victoria to get the frost covers on. I hope you are all staying cosy and warm. I would love to hear about how you combat frost damage in the vege garden where you are.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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COUNTRY MORNINGS

The foggy mornings and darkness are definite reminders that winter is on its way. I wake up at 5am and tell myself as I lace my trainers that I will feel better for a bit of exercise as I brace myself for the cold breeze that races around my neck. The early mornings are still and peaceful in the country. There are no sounds of traffic and the houses are all in complete darkness, no streetlights to cast shadows nor city noises to break the silence. After the initial shock of transferring myself from the warmth of my bed to the cool of the day I always hear myself say that is the most magical time of the day. The best kept secret. Early morning in any part of the world is one of the few times when you are able to be in your own space and enjoy your own time. While the rest of the world is tucked up in bed or shuffling to the shower, you have that moment to claim as your own.

The country roads are never busy but there is always life about. The eyes in the fields shine and the rabbits dart alongside the road into safe warm burrows. This morning the fog sat low and heavy. The full moon was a welcomed light out across the fields making the paddocks look like still lakes in the moonlight.

I embrace the cooler days and have each weekend ear marked for the annual jobs of pruning the fruit trees and grape vines before the depth of winter sets in. Last year I left it much too late and ended up pruning with two pairs of gloves on and losing the feeling of my fingers from the cold. It doesn’t take long for the days to grow shorter and the pull of indoors and an open fire to get a whole lot stronger!

We have over 50 fruit trees to prune and some are a little more arduous than others. The time that it takes is also increased by the lack of height that I have. My massive stature of 5ft 4 means that I am nearly throwing the shears at the higher branches and the care taken to keep them neat is more desperation rather than good measure. 

Our first year that we moved to the farm, the trees hadn’t been touched for a long time and all looked over grown and unruly with many other occupants (other than fruit) calling the tight knit branches their home. Jonathan put aside a day and sent me in to town with the kids to run some errands and pick up some well needed material for the farm. By the time I came back it looked like Edward Scissorhands had come to visit. It also looked like Ed had been in an exceptionally scissor happy or bad mood!! The twigs and cut back branches I had planned on pruning would have been a generous pile and romantically I had planned a bonfire, a glass of red and an occasion to burn it off later. When I looked at the paddock filled with fallen branches and bare sad stumps left standing I think the burn off would have been more of a Guy Falkes occasion rather than a bonfire.. My poor fruit trees stood bare, naked and a whole lot thinner than when we had left TWO HOURS AGO! 

So now the pruning is my job and a job it is. I really love looking at the trees form and nakedness and feel that Autumn shows the trees soul and pure beauty. I am definitely not Edward Scissorhands and more Alan Sugar. I do have to add that the following year after Jonathan’s ‘short back and sides’ episode we had an abundance of fruit. I will report back after my efforts. If not an abundance of fruit, I am sure to have an abundance of arm muscles!

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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GRAPE EXPECTATIONS

When we entered the property two years ago, I felt like I was jumping into a page of Under the Tuscan sun. The vineyard was lush with green vines and the landscape oozed Italian influences. The olive grove, fruit and fig trees surrounded us and at that point I looked at JB and couldn't think of buying anywhere else. Similarly to the actual story of Under a Tuscan Sun, the property was old and fraught with the challenges that a 'fixer upper' comes with. But keeping to the romantic ideals that we had of producing our own food and little slice of heaven, they were all little bumps on an exciting journey.

The first year of facing the vines I remember having panic attacks and willing Old George to come back from heaven and help me make the right cuts. Thinking that I could kill a 30 year old vine with a couple of meagre snips was my first mistake. In fact by year two we had the clippers, the heavy duty branch cutters and the tree saw out. The vines were pared back to pathetic looking stick and all seemed to look like they had come off second best with Edward Scissor hands. Over the years they had been allowed to grow extra trunks and multiple cordons which for people like myself who don’t know what they are, are the canes that the grapes grow from. There were way too many for each vine and understandably drained so much of the plants energy that there was nothing left to produce the grapes.

This year, after Dad and I took to them with great gusto, we had left around a hundred vines with only 5 or 6 cordons. It was a text book prune that we were both proud of and exhausted from. As the summer kicked in we watched with anticipation as the clusters of delicious grapes grew across every vine. Their plump red grapes turned a deep purple and as the heat touched them they seemed to start to look as they were about to explode.

In my excitement that we had actually grown grapes, I hadn't planned for the next stage of what to do when they were ready. This week in shear panic, I sent a text out into the world of social media and was thrilled to receive a couple of referrals of companies that could help us produce our own wine.

I spoke to several local vineyards who kindly informed me that unless I had a ton of grapes it wasn’t worth them getting involved in the production of the wine.  One even gave me the great suggestion of looking at making Verjuice next year. With the idea of having to get the laundry bucket out and start scrubbing my feet, again I wished I could get George down from Heaven and get a 101 on making wine. I wasn’t expecting grand results, but I couldn’t bear the thought of feeding all of these wonderful grapes to the animals.

While waiting for the answer of what to do with the grapes I picked the grapes that surround our veggie garden. There must be two or three varieties and the big ones are fatter than fat! They are plump, juicy grapes that are super sweet and full of pips. I guess they are how grapes used to be before we decided that we didn’t like pips anymore and created the pip free ones. They taste like a deep port flavour and have a hard skin that keeps in the bounty of juice that explodes in your mouth when you eat them. Once I had picked all the clusters of fruit from the vines I had around 20kg of grapes. Not a ton but enough to make some Grape and Rosemary Jelly. With their flavour in mind I could just imagine how delicious it would be served with some blue cheese and a red wine. So I got cracking.

I had been making so much jam recently that I was making it in my sleep. I think the share price of sugar sales in Kyneton had been going through the roof purely down to my multiple bags I had been buying through the summer season. The stone fruits were too beautiful to let go to waste so after preserving a ton of peaches, nectarines, plums and now figs, I was relieved to not have to cut and stone another 20 kilos of fruit.

After moving on a dozen little earwigs from the pile of grapes I pulled the fruit off their stems and got them on the stove to simmer.  Once softened they were popped in a muslin and left to drain overnight. The clear liquid once cooked turned into a magnificent magenta and smelt of mulled wine. I resisted the temptation to drink it as it was and poured the remaining pulp into the muslin to drain. The trick to getting a lovely clear jelly is to mash the bejesus out of the grapes when simmering them and then not to touch them once they hit the muslin. If you push the liquid through the muslin the jelly ends up cloudy. You can make grape jelly with as little as a kilo of grapes if you buy too many and the kids decide that they 'actually’ don't like grapes which my two kids do often when I have bought a glut of anything from tomatoes to their once favourite fruit.

The next day you can either mix equal amounts of sugar to liquid (i.e. a cup of sugar for a cup of liquid) or use the jam sugar with pectin and citric acid which means you don't have to use as much sugar (most supermarkets stock this next to the sugar section). Bring the combined liquid and sugar to the boil until setting stage then pop into warmed sterilised jars. If you want to make Grape and Rosemary jelly, just add a couple of sprigs of rosemary while boiling it then remove before placing in the jar. As it cooks the rosemary will turn brown and not look as pretty, so I just removed it before

I added a sprig of fresh rosemary on top of the jar before it set as I didn’t want to have to pick bits of rosemary out of my teeth when enjoying the cheese and wine. Far too distracting from the drinking/eating part.

The jars look so pretty and make fabulous Christmas presents. If they manage to last that long in your house!

Please let me know if you make it yourself. I would love to hear about it.  

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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SEE YOU SOON SUMMER

It is scary how quickly this year had gone. Now at the end of the first quarter and coming in to Easter when I haven’t quite managed to get over Christmas yet. The only upside for me is that autumn is well and truly my favourite season of the year. We have so many events and worries over summer with droughts, fires, and trying to keep our trees alive that when autumn raises its golden arms I just run to it.  The cooler days and darker nights. The welcomed rain and sunny days. The changes in the trees and the clear sounds of nature dusting off its hands and saying ‘well there you have it, we are done for another year, we’ll see you again in spring’. 

I relish the transformation of the trees around us and the way the animals seem to look busy planning for the winter. Our stock pile of wood is a welcomed friend as the chill seems to pull itself up like a huge white blanket over the paddocks and up and over the mountains.  The dusty ground has miraculously found life under the dry layers and the green buds have already started to reveal themselves through the surface.

The figs are the last fruit on the trees from summer and I am every so willing them to ripen soon or they will be lost to the cold weather and too hard to use. It has been a year off this year with our fruit and after such an abundant year last year we have hardly had any to worry about. Our Nashi pears came through rather late and were enough to give to friends and adorn our fruit bowl but not too many too bother preserving. The stone fruit took a well-deserved vacation this year and I think collectively decided to give it a miss! The vineyard kept the birds busy for a week but wasn’t really worth fighting for as the grapes were so tiny. Our vegetable garden though has been a treat with monster sized zucchinis and delicious tomatoes, beans, corn and peas. Our fennel has also been lush and fluffy with new potatoes, dark green kale, broccoli, and delicious carrots coming through ready for the picking. We are excited about the results that consistent water and good soil can achieve. Our few boxes of abundant vegetables have given us overwhelming confidence to keep planting for the seasons knowing that the harvest will be as close to guaranteed as you can be with Mother Nature. There are always the pests to keep you on your toes but as with everything on a farm you take the good with the bad. The chooks don’t seem to mind the grubs but after a few stubborn green ones made it into our salads, the kids definitely do.

Finally the hazelnuts and medlar are looking very promising this year. Once the chestnuts come out, I am in heaven and with the open fire roaring and the chestnuts roasting. Life couldn’t get any better. I am happy to say farewell to summer until next year, grab a good book and find my comfy spot beside the fire.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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THE GOOD LIFE

Happiness is about taking moments that make you smile and doing them often. I know that life throws us challenges that often take us by surprise. Sometimes the challenges seem so far uphill that you lose your breath getting there. The path to the top of the hill has slippery rocks, no hand rails and annoying tour guides that get in your way. There are plenty of people out there who are paid a lot of money to help us find that great view at the top of the mountain. But when you are on your own and plodding step after step, sometimes you need to seek a bit of solace from ‘all of that’ and sometimes from yourself. Finding ‘that’ place where you can breathe, laugh, and think is so important. It might be your wardrobe, and to be honest I used to find a LOT of comfort in hiding in my wardrobe and hugging my Prada boots. These days my happy moments are up in my veggie garden. Call me middle aged, call me Barbara, but my sanctuary is definitely up in my vegetable patch smelling the flowers... not roses... cauliflowers.

What I have learned about growing veggies is that it is a little bit like raising kids. You have a little bit to do with how they turn out but at the end of the day, even with a lot of love and nurturing, they could very well turn out gnarly. The enjoyment is purely in the journey.  My happiness pulling out potatoes knows no limits. After a day with my hands in the dirt unearthing those glorious nuggets of goodness, I feel positively euphoric. I know I am not the only one and I can truly tell why the Irish are a nation of happy farmers. The spuds are uncomplicated to grow, happy with the cold and lend themselves to feeding even the fussiest of children. It is a win, win, win. Jamie Oliver wrote in his book Jamie at home “I’ve been nipping out of the house for an hour here, an hour there, and coming back looking refreshed, rosy-cheeked and guilty, with grass stains on my knees. Now you might be thinking that a cookbook is not the right place to be talking about my personal life, but before you jump to conclusions, let me explain... I have fallen in love with my veg patch.”  

I totally get it. Hands in dirt, back to basics, growing nutritious, seasonal, sometimes grub eaten vegetables fills me with a sense of peace.  Loving to cook for family and friends takes on an extra dimension when the food comes from your garden. It doesn’t have to be 10 acres or even an acre of farm, the satisfaction can be created from growing your own tomatoes, a little box of potatoes or herbs scattered around the window sills. Where ever we have dirt, we can grow things and where we can grow things, we can find our little place where happiness grows too. Maybe that sounds a little bit simple, maybe a little deep but that is where I am at right now. I love that the kids know where things that land on their plate come from. How they grew and what they looked like in the ground or on the vine. It is funny to watch them pick off the green grubs and feed them to the chooks, then happily eat the vegetables an hour later for dinner.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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A NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION TO KEEP THINGS SIMPLE

Welcome to a new and wonderful year. Even though we are mid-way into our first month of 2016 I don’t quite feel as if we have started normality yet. We escaped to Merimbula in NSW for a well needed break with the family and instead of watching the fruit grow on our trees and listening to the sound of the cows in the paddocks we have been planting our feet firmly into the sand. I find myself daily looking like a freckly statue with feet planted apart, arms spread out and surrendering myself to the glorious and powerful energy of the wind on the beach and the sounds of the waves. I am very at home in the country but every time I return to the beach, I feel my shoulders drop, and I can let go breath after breath with each wave and watch all the daily worries float away. After 17 years in a busy city like London, I hankered with every part of my being to merge with the tiny particles of sand and listen to the waves. I know that country is my soul but the coast has a big part of my heart.

It made me think about change. The new year seems to call for all of us to change and think about the year ahead, what it means and the endless lists of ‘personal bests’ we are going to achieve. I know last year we had an endless list of improvements around the farm, the house needed to be brought into this century and the ‘it’ll do’ infrastructure around the place needed to be relinquished for solutions that worked rather than made the task even more challenging. We sat back after stopping on our holiday and after reflecting on 2015 felt like in all the chaos we had achieved some good things. The house is nearly finished and the improvements around the farm can give us back time to do so many other things that we have wanted to. Jonathan irrigated the orchard and vegetable gardens which has meant so many more choices in what we can plant and how they will flourish. And to combat any distractions of life (and my terrible time management) he installed a timer! No more guilty conscience and saggy beans! The orchard has now got consistent irrigation which should hopefully help the trees to produce more fruit and feel a lot happier. There is nothing worse than feeling your trees are suffering in the summer heat. Even the chook shed got its own self-timed water filler. 

I am not sure I believe in New Year resolutions anymore, goodness knows I spent so many years relentlessly embarking on the new diet, exercise routine and personal development plan to last 12 months which was notoriously ditched by March. I think it is all about being the best YOU that you can be. Making the most of the things that you already have (physically and materially) and changing what doesn’t work for you anymore. I think change can happen in a heartbeat. We all experience change every day. I have felt that by moving our little family to the beach for ten days that not only have we changed our environment and given our heads some space to prepare for the year, but we also can look towards home and appreciate it again in a new light. Change for me has always been positive (even when it meant a few days of hair pulling and self-doubt) the reasons for the change always make themselves clear when you are ready to see them. The ‘ahaaa’ moments happen and the opportunities are ready for grabbing! I would like someone to remind me of that when I get home and my almonds have been finally ravished by the birds or my apples have all been blown off the tree. It is change and an opportunity to look at something else. Maybe I should forget the almonds and focus on planting my veggies.

For me as I get older I think new beginnings can happen anytime, not on the first of January or even on significant birthdays, let’s face it as we get older every birthday is significant! If you think that starting yoga or preserving fruit is your thing then start today. Even better find someone who loves it and then do it together, learning with someone is much more fun, and you are more likely to keep it going. We are blessed with so many talented people around us who seem to have endless skills and oodles of experience doing fantastic things; Gardening, sewing, cooking, ethically raising animals, making raw chocolate, baking bread and producing wine! The calendar is going to be full of firsts for me this year. I am sending you all my love and the best of luck with whatever you are doing and all of your new projects. I am so excited about what this year has to offer.

What are your new years projects?

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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HARSHNESS IN ITS BEAUTY

“I love a sunburned country a land of sweeping plains of rugged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains…”

Oh how our landscape shifts from one moment to another in the harsh and unforgiving Australian climate. We have months of droughts then the flooding rains that Dorothea Mackeller so aptly describes. We sit in a land of abundance and rugged beauty, it breeds resilience and a hardened exterior in its land and it its people. The heart, however is generous and open. It says ‘this is how I am and take me as you find me’. The faces change and the tormenting sun gives way to solid torrential downpours that wash away the dust, wash away roads and take another layer of the earth with it. We are the caretakers of the country, we don’t own the land and we definitely don’t control it. We can pump money in to creating an environment, plant trees, work with nature but our efforts can often upset the apple cart rather than assisting it. 

Living in the country I have the blessing of seeing the changing climate and seasons that shape everything around us. We work within its confines and are generally at the mercy of the day that is presented. I watch the birds move and adapt, the animals seek shelter and cohabit with one another. The trees and earth are the backbone of the farm. Without fertile soil we would not have the trees and without the trees then we would all be in trouble. We live amongst nature and constantly feel aware of the balance of life in the country. Being a part of the seasons is such a gift and being able to stop in a storm and feel the rain on your skin and the hair on your arms rise up watching the skies as the thunder and lightening race over the mountains is a blessing. The decision to live here as part of the country landscape is not purely about wanting to ‘get away from it all’ but wanting to get amongst it all. ‘It’ being life and feeling nature’s energy around you. 

Our greatest gift back to the earth is to love where we live and put as much back in to the land as we take out. Being aware of the co-habitants, the bees, the birds and the animals too. Using zero pesticides and only taking from the earth what can be put back. Everything in balance and living with present awareness. The more I watch our world around us, I realise that you cannot control your environment, just love it. Accept it and work with the challenges and opportunities that it gives you. Appreciate its seasons and beauty and be a part of them when they happen. So often our first habit is to complain about the weather. Use it because it always changes. Eat the food it produces seasonally and enjoy the richness of the flavours. When you plant your own vegetables you realise how hard it is to grow something pretty, but it always tastes amazing. Pretty is for the supermarkets! The flavours when you eat seasonally are completely different. 

It is days like these when the weather is crazy, the wind is wild and rain is pouring that I feel even more grateful than usual. It is exciting to feel a part of an energy that is so much bigger than ourselves. It is times like these that you know anything is possible.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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READY, SET, NET!

Time flies...

Is it just me or do you all feel that the months seem to be speeding up? I feel like the weekends are getting here even before I have my head around Monday. Then before you know it, the yearly reminder hits, when every shop turns red and green and has jingles on permanent rotation. The undeniable fact that we are well and truly looking towards the end of the year and one of my favourite times of year, Christmas!

We have been super busy on the farm this month and have been going through our long list of jobs and ticking some very big and very small ones off our list. The house is starting to look great with the old 1960’s vinyl making way for new floorboards, the walls will soon be painted and the lights are all up. The beige and orange kitchen is looking a lot brighter with our white cupboards and shiny new granite bench tops. The farm kitchen is now a lot more usable and has a lot more elbow room to create the usual array of breads, preserves, jam, cakes etc.  I even splashed out and bought a great new tap with a stretchy nozzle to clean those delicious vegetables from the garden. Speaking of gardens, my very handy husband (who is also a Landscaper) has outdone himself with building us an array of new garden beds. Having boxes as opposed to our old paddock has saved a whole lot of time in weeding as well as the aches and pains in my back too! They are at a perfect height for both the kids and I to work with. Everyone has been involved in their creation from the old carpet from the house to the chooks and cows in their own special way! The boxes were filled and planted a few weeks ago are now sprouting lovely green shoots and starting to take shape. It makes me chuckle every time I visit the garden as there are random sunflowers growing in every box where my little four year old garden gnome Freya has spread her sunny spirit through the vegetable garden. She says to me ‘Sunflowers make everyone happy Mummy, the veggies are going to love them!’ How can I argue with that?

The birds and bees (and flies) are ever present in our garden and our four legged daughter Ruby spends all day chasing them up and down the garden with much delight from both parties with Ruby barking and the birds singing back to her. It seems a regular game that neither of them find exhausting. Unfortunately the birds must have built up an appetite from all of the playing as my much anticipated cherry trees that were bursting with shiny green fruit one day was literally gone the next. My visions of mountains of fresh crimson cherries adorning the Christmas table were well and truly quashed! They were still green and I was just not ready! It never ceases to amaze me how prepared you need to be, and the birds are always one step in front of me. Once I recovered from the loss of the cherries (which I have to say took a few days), I dug out as many of our nets for our almond trees as I could. The huge old trees are looking glorious and have huge furry almonds all over the branches. Since living here the birds have definitely won every match and I feel that the score board has a rather large flashing neon sign that says ‘Birds 50 – Jen 0’. However in the mast of the cherry saga, I was determined to get to the almonds before they do and have thrown as many nets over the fruit as I can. With the trees being huge and me standing at a whopping 5ft 4 inches, it is a tough job to do, but like the birds, I also have sheer and stubborn determination.

Maybe the Christmas table will be missing a few cherries, but I am determined to have a nice big bowl of almonds and one delicious Panforte!

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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WAR ON WASPS

With the onset of spring and the longer, warmer days we have been really busy outdoors. It is a fantastic time of year when you can spend the weekends out in the garden with the kids and dogs and birds all filling the peaceful scene with laughter and noise.  

This month we have finished the big veggie boxes and planted them with an array of delicious vegetables. The kids have a mandatory requirement to be included in all activities related to planting and feel that they now (after a couple of years of being in Kyneton) hold a professional level of prowess in the art of planting. This usually involves oversized gardening gloves, getting extremely dirty and even wetter from over exuberant watering of the seeds. The actual planting of the seeds after carefully laid out rows have been set is a little laissez faire. The experience to date of the kids planting has been finding carrots in with the spinach and a random pumpkin growing with the broccoli. I think perhaps that is our definition of companion planting, it seems to work and provides us with endless wonders once the plants grow. The ‘guess what vegetable it is’ isn’t as straight forward as if I had planted them, but equally far more exciting. We were fascinated though with the new invention we discovered from Yates of the little spools of twine with the seeds already twisted into it.  It was clearly designed by someone related to my husband who usually walks off in frustration at the sheer lack of methodology in our planting style (i.e. OCD vs It’ll-do).  With this new system it is virtually fool proof. Each little line of twine has the exact number of seeds evenly spun in along the length of string which is placed in the rows and cut at each end. Once the string has been covered with soil, you simply water it and abracadabra, your lettuce appears looking evenly spaced like it looks on the packet. No more mutant vegetables for us! Although I quite enjoy waiting for the hybrid varieties we seem to grow. You have to try it, it really is amazing!

With the wasp epidemic of last year and after losing all of our wine grapes we have put in place a revenge plan for the impending wasp season. After several months of planning we have successfully collected a number of 1.25 litre soft drink (and tonic water) bottles as our weaponry. Thankfully ABC radio last year released several ideas on how to create wasp traps that were not only environmentally safe but also made without any chemicals that could be harmful to our bees. The bottle has been filled with a delightful combination of honey and vanilla essence and filled with water to ferment. Our blossoming fruit trees are now all adorned with golden bottles that will hopefully attract the queen wasp before she starts her nest. The average queen wasp is known to produce up to 1 million wasps per nest which is terrifying to say the least so October is the prime time to put the traps out to entice the queen wasp before the activity happens in the nest. It is definitely a learning process being on a farm and with challenges faced every day, I have come to realise that planning and preparation is the only way to overcome them. The planning of making these wasp traps though has not been such a hardship and I have never felt so much purpose and dedication in pouring a cold G&T at the end of the day. With the collection of tonic bottles I feel that my commitment to the battle of the wasp has been one of utter dedication and selflessness.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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DAFFODILS & PARADES

The true beginning of spring for all the good folk of Kyneton is definitely the Kyneton Daffodil Festival. It is a well etched diary entry for everyone in the surrounding areas as much as it is for all the local people. We witnessed our first Daffodil Festival the year we arrived from London and as we stood on the side of the road watching the amazing parade felt a deep sense of belonging and pride in a country town that we had only just met. In country terms we were not even at first date status in our first year of living here when the kids were invited to participate in the parade through their local childcare centre. The excitement started to build weeks in advance and to be included in the event for the kids, as much as for JB and I was such an honour. The truth is that nearly every person young and old has the opportunity to participate in the parade. Whether from the footpath or as a proud walker, everyone makes the parade feel magical. The kids had made daffodil hats and the local schools, clubs, businesses, dance and theatre companies were all involved in putting together bright, colourful, fun floats and costumes to entertain the crowds. Bands marched and played proudly, the drumming band kept the crowds moving and the smiles on the faces of the little children waving to onlookers, created a magic that is difficult to ignore.

This year the local businesses had their window displays on show with all the brightness of spring. We have a King and Queen of the Festival who knight all those worthy of the honour of the daffodil. There are performances, antique fairs and an array of attractions that make Kyneton buzz with excitement. Our little boy as a big Prep was planning on walking on his own without Mum or Dad to hold his hand. His friends were all there dressed in flower hats and bright happy clothes. The teachers were all as bright as the kids and had put in so much work to create a spring theme to stand out in the parade. I was waiting for our independent Parade Preppie to have a last minute change of heart and want to hold a familiar hand of Mum or Dad to get him through the journey. However the spirit of being a part of a loving country community was ever present and even though we have only been a part of the school since the beginning of the year, and Kyneton for 3 years. Our family has so many familiar hands to hold. So many loving, caring and genuine people that you would happily trust to walk with your little boy. I watched as he marched along with his school as proud as any parent could be, not only that he had the courage to walk on his own, but proud of how many beautiful friends that he has made. Lifelong connections that will walk beside him for many years to come.

Our connections from being involved in our community has also been life changing and genuinely heart-warming. From the kids that our children have met to their parents and teachers of the local school, the businesses in our community and the neighbours we share our road with.  Everyone has an outlook on life that sometimes feels a little too good to be true. It is scary that these people are all so genuine, and care about those who they share their town with. I see every day, kindness and random acts of generosity that makes you really believe that people are good and if you ask me, country people are even a little more so.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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BALANCE

The country air is crisp and cold this time of year in Kyneton. The morning seems to be washed in a hazy cloak of fog and the sun glistens on the frosty grass. By my second coffee (at around 8am), the sun has won and the once white grass has turned back to luscious green. The fog in the air has made way for the blue skies, and the world with all its glory of spring, is magnificent.

I look in wonder at the trees that have stood bare since they threw off their auburn coats in autumn. Their long limbs clipped and pruned have started to show their resilience to the cold. Buds form across their branches and the dormant wood that lay three weeks earlier seems to have a glow of new life all over its body. Our fruit trees and vineyard are still bare but the feeling of hope is ever present on our little farm. It is the hope for new life, new beginnings and the hope that rain will come and a good dose of sunshine will arrive in some sort of balance. The Australian farms and land around here can tell only too many tales of imbalance, of draught and flooding. The seasons often tipped on their heads and the farmers left scratching theirs, it is never easy but always there is hope. I see the hope that Mother Nature has around me and the magic that she spreads to so many areas of our farm.  Our old chestnut tree that looked to have given up the ghost has shoots of new life springing up from goodness knows where. The paddocks that were bare during summer to the point where there was no more dust are now lush and green.  It helps to remember these transformations. They are rarely permanent just subtle changes that are right for that season.

Resilience is the word I often think of when I watch these changes. The beauty in everything that grows and moves on our land can at times appear to be delicate, but, in reality, it is as tough as old boots. There doesn’t seem to be any room for delicacy. In the balance of life out here though, there always is. Through winter as the cold seemed to get arctic, our farm and the pets we adore were watched all the more carefully over winter. Extra nutrients provided and warm food and shelter became a necessity to keep them safe. Our darling ‘girls’ (our chickens) were served up hot pollard in the mornings to warm their little tummies and Darren our fat old ram got servings of extra toast and pellets. Although he definitely prefers vegemite toast!

With the suggestion of warmer days to come, the arrival of spring is met with such enthusiasm from our animals, from our kids, our trees and especially our garden. The flowers are lifting their heads and the anticipation of life seems to be palpable in the air. The suns warm rays are like an Old Italian Mamma who can’t stop kissing a babies face, it is a welcomed greeting full of love and seems to reach out to every cold surface, and warm its soul. Every new bud is like a rediscovery of what lays beneath. The unveiling of the beauty that has slept through the seasons. The excitement of how it will look, smell and what the fruit will taste like. The longer days and calm nights of spring. The windows flung open to call in the breeze. The fire is still on until then, and it is about time to have one more coffee before I let the chickens out for their morning walk before their breakfast is served.

  
Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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I LOVE THE NEW SEASONS WE HAVE OVER HERE IN VICTORIA

I love the new seasons we have over here in Victoria. They don’t mix themselves into the picture like watercolours on a landscape. It is more like a flashmob dance in a phone box. Bham!! Here I am!  Summer, you want summer? How’s 45 degrees for you? Hot enough?  Autumn. Golden leaves watch closely, kick those piles and bask in that crisp sun because soon you will be kicking... Bham... that’s right, Icicles. Winter time, is here and the frost has come along with 2 degrees and some seriously chilly winds. I love Kyneton for all these reason, Spring is like the wedding at the end of the love story. It is always beautiful and often brings tears to my eyes with all the new buds, flowers and babies. Not lambs though. Our lambs are born though out the year, especially now when it is jolly freezing. We have just had two beautiful little black lambs born this week on the farm and I tell you those little lambs are going to be made of tough stuff. We don’t just do Spring lambs here in Australia we do super lambs. JB is up at the crack of dawn every morning and lately he has come in with a nose like Rudolph and winter has only just started.

Life has got ridiculously busy for us recently, JB and I are both working and I am baking cookies, slices and sweet things for a local restaurant in the evenings. When the weekends come there is a list as long as our arms of jobs we need to get done around the farm.  Pruning is a big one and we have learnt from last year that the longer you leave it the harder the job becomes. What starts as a little plum tree soon looks like the Magic Faraway Tree and seems to loom over our heads like Tree-zilla.

So this weekend I am going to get all tooled up and start the pruning process. This year it will be less Edward Scissorhands and more a little trim. But none the less we need to get cracking. This year we had a very sad crop of fruit and I was thankful that I preserved everything that stood still for five minutes. The family are going to start developing an aversion to green tomato anything soon though. I don’t want to tell them but there are another 100 jars of pickles and chutneys to get through.

The June Bank holiday in Kyneton is a big one. The Queen would love to know that her birthday weekend over here is one of the busiest and most celebrated. In honour of HM every B&B and Farm stay is booked out a year in advance. The local wineries all open their gates and crack open their prized vintage blends and foodies come from all over the land to sample the flavours of the local area. 

This weekend Mum, the kids and I decided to do a wine road trip and see what all the fuss was about. We started our adventure in Heathcote and ambled down scenic roads stopping at any wine that said ‘Open Cellar’ or ‘Tastings’. Our tastebuds were not disappointed. There are some seriously talented and dedicated wine makers in our area. The love and care that is poured into this industry over here deserves support and who better to give it to them, my Mum and I. As I was behind the wheel, I had to keep my tastings to a minimum and spit it. Which between you and me was a bit sacreligious. Every part of my being felt guilty when the chap said ‘Here is our limited addition, prize winning, hand picked Shiraz 2008’ and Ia year in advance. The local wineries all open their gates and crack open their prized vintage blends and foodies come from all over the land to sample the flavours of the local area. 

This weekend Mum, the kids and I decided to do a wine road trip and see what all the fuss was about. We started our adventure in Heathcote and ambled down scenic roads stopping at any wine that said ‘Open Cellar’ or ‘Tastings’. Our tastebuds were not disappointed. There are some seriously talented and dedicated wine makers in our area. The love and care that is poured into this industry over here deserves support and who better to give it to them, my Mum and I. As I was behind the wheel, so I had to keep my tastings to a minimum and spit it. Which between you and me was a bit sacrilegious and definitely a new experience. Every part of my being felt guilty when the chap said ‘Here is our limited addition, prize winning, hand-picked Shiraz 2008’ and I here is the spit bucket. It just all seemed wrong. Next year I think I will take along a wheel barrow, and say, ‘I love it, load her up, and save some room for me in there too!’

The area that we have lived in for the past year and a half surprised me. Beyond our front gate are miles of amazing landscapes. The lime stone boulders protruding out of the earth looked like something from the Lord of the Rings. Around every corner another breath taking view. The kids were constantly entertained and yelled from the back ‘Look Nanny, isn’t it beautiful’.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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FROM SIRENS TO SILENCE

On any given day in our small London house with the windows flung open you would hear an orchestra of sounds. The sirens from the police station, the trains and announcements to Charing Cross, the buses and bustle of people rushing to get to and from work, the neighbours talking from one room to another, Jamaican to my left and Swedish to my right. The city never stopped and the arrangement of music that life created was rarely quiet, never still, but always dynamic.

I sit here today in country Victoria with a cup of tea, outside my back door watching the theatre of life before me. The sirens are now exchanged for silence, albeit the background chorus of Kookaburras and Currawong birds. The rabbits dance in front of me and the trees sway. The paddocks are scattered with happy sheep and cows and the ground sparkles as the sun hits the dewy grass.

It is a far cry from London, and with an open heart I still love the city sounds but cannot take more than a week away from my country life that we have now called home and adopted heart and soul.

Our life in Kyneton began three years ago when we arrived with a 20ft container, a baby, a toddler and a dream to create a life of self-sufficiency. Our canvas was a beautiful farm pre-loved and nurtured by an old Italian couple who built a sensible house (our Terracotta dream) and planted an array of fruit trees, nut trees, a vineyard and olive trees. We were beginners with oodles of passion but less than a postage stamp of experience. Our journey started as our feet hit the ground and with many lessons learned along the way we have ventured face first into territories unknown. A lot has been scary (Robbie the Rooster), some painful (shelling Chestnuts) but most of them rewarding. Every day I look outside and know that I haven’t even scratched the surface. I toil sometimes with a grumpy face and wish that I could just fast forward the tough bits so that we can sit back and enjoy the farm with the kids, but then I look at their muddy faces and complete fearlessness of tackling the unknown and I don’t want to miss a second of this. They pick fruit and feed the chickens, they plant vegetables and smell the herbs. They yell at the cockatoos when the almond and hazelnuts are ripe and know that life has a cycle that needs to be respected and food is something that is grown not thrown. We know about seasons and look forward to the buds and flowers in Spring, Autumn when the Olives and Medlars are picked and the mushrooms are found, Summer when the stone fruits are ripe and Winter when the fire is on and the days are longer. Each season now brings anticipation and some planning too. On the weekends we bake our own bread and the days are usually full of jobs that can easily be translated by a 5 year boy as an adventure! We know that for all of us, these lessons are life changing and create foundations for today and for their future. 

We don’t always get it right and laugh at ourselves a lot! The move to Kyneton has given us so many choices, and a platform to provide food security, and a healthy life for our family. It occurs to me when I write our story down how much we have changed since leaving South East London. I laugh to myself and somewhere close by a Kookaburra does too.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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A PLACE IN THE COUNTRY

My Mother always taught us to measure twice and cut once. Her philosophy in life was that if you were going to do something you made sure that you did it properly. The Fixers, Menders and Builders of yesterday all seemed to have that belief. Not surprisingly things made back then lasted much longer and sheds were full of tools rather than broken things.

The house that we bought in the country was nothing like you see in French Provincial Magazines. It wasn’t pretty or quaint and it didn't even hold notions of a 'renovators dream'. We bought and moved into a very practical, well built, square terracotta brick house. Which definitely doesn’t sound romantic or read as poetically as the iron lacing and period features of many country homes, but this one was solid and looked as if it could survive a tornado on steroids. Its builder, George, was a first generation Italian, and obviously knew the difference between concrete and super-glue. The creative licence was obviously kept to a minimum and if it wasn’t functional, it was not built! The terracotta brick colours matched perfectly with the terracotta tiled roof. It had a non-offensive interior design of beige and magnolia and the kitchen seemed to function remarkably well for its generation.  

When we first went through the house, the most noticeable thing about the whole house was how spick and span it was. It was as neat as a pin. In fact the lovely old couple had hardly made a mark on any wall or floor. Each table and chair had a plastic cover or rug carefully placed over it to keep it in ‘as new’ condition. I got the feeling that if I sat still for long enough, I would have had a plastic cover on me too. I watched as our two toddlers ran through each room and inspected every empty cupboard, finding fabulous hiding places in the empty rooms. I noticed that there was an obvious silence (relatively unusual for two small children) so in a feeling of panic I walked purposely to find what chaos they may have caused. In the last room I found them star shaped on the soft beige carpet. Our houses all had floor boards through every room, so the pure joy of soft woollen carpet seemed to quite literally bring them to their little knees.

We had both already fallen in love with the farm, and the house was not the front page spread, but it was definitely a solid family home with plenty of potential. After only recently renovating a hundred year old double storey terrace in South East London, we knew from our mistakes that sometimes you need to just live in a house before you start buying Belle or Vogue Living for its interior styling tips. We had so many other priorities that we needed to focus on and compared to the house in London that needed the exterminators, the exorcists and the industrial cleaners in, we had a very blank and clean canvas to work from.

After each visit our minds (and hearts) kept returning to the mountain views, the huge gum trees and array of fruit and nut trees, the orchards, the vineyard and the olive groves. We had spent a lot of time in Tuscany while living in London and the feeling of the house and land started to make us reminisce about the many glorious visits to the Chianti Hills in Italy. We started to overlook the house (i.e. the four walls) and start day dreaming of sitting under the olive groves eating figs and drinking home grown wine. The picture for us of establishing our family in an environment that provided all our food and water from the land was a dream that we could not walk away from. It was going to be a journey paved with long days and a very steep learning curve, but the benefits definitely outweighed the challenges.  

We moved in not long after to our comfortable country home and the 20 foot sea container followed. The house was no longer empty but full of children, noise, laughter and a lot of mess. There was a welcome feeling when we walked through the doors, and I could almost feel old George our Italian host was staring down at us with a knowing and accepting smile of things to come. Our beautiful country home, di bella casa di campagna.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
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VILLA MARIA

As the truck pulled into the dusty road, I felt like I was in Italy. You could smell the heat from the land as the red dust billowed alongside the road as we travelled to our new home. As we turned the corner the sight of the olive trees and vineyard was breath taking. The last time we came up to see the property, the paddocks were lush and green and the rabbits were having a feast in the abandoned vegetable garden. The fruit trees had been in bloom and the loquat tree was abundant with plump yellow fruit sagging under the weight of its produce. Today we arrive and the first thing I think is how dry the farm looks. The grass has been burned by the fierce sun and there is a shimmer of heat radiating from the ground as you look down the paddocks. There is still plenty of life about though and the local family of rabbits make their presence felt by bouncing past us and under the fence. The vines are still in bloom and there is the first signs of the grapes on the wires. It is exciting.

Twenty five years ago George and Maria DiFilipi made the same trip through the front gate with a vision and a dream. They were two immigrants from Italy who had spent many years working hard in Melbourne to buy 14 acres of undeveloped land in Kyneton. When George and Maria walked through the front gates back then, there was nothing but an old Grey Gum tree and a blank canvas. Over the next twenty five years, they spent their spare time building the house and planting the trees. Maria felt the earth and followed the moon cycle planting her oasis during the most effective phase of the moon. They poured so much love into the property and created their vision and lived their dream. Their Italian culture and ancient knowledge of nurturing the land is still thriving today. Through their passion of food they planted 48 fruit and nut trees, a small private vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and Marsanne and Americano grapes, an olive grove and secret patches of oregano, rosemary and sage still stand today. The house was built with functionality in mind and works well albeit a very simple design. The locals say that Maria never spent very much time in it and was up when the sun rose and still in the garden when the sun set. Her love and dedication was something that we felt the minute we set foot on the farm.

The boxes were unpacked straight into the shed and the house stuff into the old country kitchen. The shed is big enough to fit a tractor, a Ute, and a car side by side, so for the first time ever I was not worried about where my shoes would fit. The house had been left empty for a long time but didn’t feel abandoned. Following the death of George two years ago Maria couldn’t face returning to the farm for very long. It was their dream together and without the two of them, it probably didn’t feel right. So the farm was packed up and put on the market. The abundant, thriving vegetable garden had been enjoyed by the fat rabbits and now looked like the party was over and the vegies gone. On our last visit to the farm Maria and her lovely Son Bob had met us here and we had the most amazing lunch together. It was like being on holiday in Tuscany. Wine flowed and Maria made a delicious lunch of fresh homemade pasta, cheese, charcuterie and olive. It was a beautiful day of great food, conversation and laughter. Maria shared stories with us of their time here and we walked around the garden together as she introduced us to each and every tree. She was happy that a new family were moving in who loved it as much as she did. For her it was the end of a chapter, for us it was a new beginning.

Jonathan and I put the last box away and sat on the back porch with a beer and took a very deep breath. It was now our turn to dream, one immigrant from England and a girl from Melbourne.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
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MY COUNTRY CHILDHOOD IN KINGLAKE, VICTORIA

It is funny when I think back to my childhood. Sometimes I wonder if my memories are truly my own or if they are a combination of my two sisters and mine, some wonderful imaginations and the stories from our parents thrown in between. The excitement and adventures we had were stuff of storybooks, i.e. the Famous Five meets Lost. The characters we met and loved were the full spectrum of the sweet old lady across the road to scary villains who lived in big old haunted houses. Well, it all felt like that when you were six years old.

As two teachers with fairly limited resources but huge enthusiasm, Mum and Dad decided that a change was needed. So after spending many weekends searching for their ideal place, they sold the family home, packed up the maroon Ford Fairlane and headed, quite literally, for the hills. Three hours from Melbourne, Kinglake was surrounded by dense National Parks. Where native wildlife wandered freely and there was more vacant paddocks than there were homes. When we arrived, there were only a handful of families that made up the town. It was split in to Kinglake East, Kinglake West and Kinglake Centre (or Middle Kinglake) as the locals liked to call it. In Middle Kinglake, we were the newest family to arrive in the area for many years. Neighbours from one end of the road to the other were all related; sometimes closely, sometimes distant cousins, but mostly they all shared the same gene pool, and plenty of history. We were somewhat of a novelty to the locals, but everyone accepted us in with open arms. The country community was a close one and one of support, respect and mateship.

Our property overlooked the Toolangi Mountain Ranges which was as vast as the eye could see. The deep-blue mountains sat at the foot of the 88 acres and in between was lush volcanic soil that had endless possibilities. Barely fenced, the rolling hills were a blank canvas for Mum and Dad, and every night Mum and Dad sat down with a notepad and filled each of the 88 acres and some with their enthusiasm, and aspirations.

While the land was being cleared to build our house, we rented an old house down the road from the paddock. The Pekins house (owned by the Pekins), was an old miners style cottage with a front and back veranda, an outdoor dunny and enough holes in the weatherboard to make it whistle. We knew it was temporary but for all its misgivings it was cheap and close to the building site. The weekly event that was met with excitement and great fear was the digging of the hole for the toilet. The bag of lime came out of the shed and the biggest shovel. To the amusement of my Dad the cheekiest kid, or slowest to run away after taunting him would be held upside down over the pit and dangled just high enough to feel the fear and experience the smell of what lay beneath! The escapees would by now, be rolling around on the grass laughing hysterically at the expense of our doomed sibling. We all knew full well that we would never be dropped ‘really’, but the excitement and fear and fun kept us going for hours later fearful of the next time that it would be our turn!

Every waking hour that our parents had was spent building the new house themselves. Still very little my sister and I would often need an afternoon sleep. It was still back at a time when leaving kids at home alone was perfectly acceptable. We would wake up and take up a basket of cordial and afternoon tea (biscuits if we could find them, more often Salada biscuits with thick butter and vegemite) up to the house for Mum and Dad and our eldest sister. Once my little sister who was only 3 or 4 made the journey on her own, escorted by our big black Rottweiler Sophie who never left her side. It was a blessed, safe life for kids like us who had only known the suburbs but now thought that the whole town was our own.

 

Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
www.sirenstosilence.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/pages/From-Sirens-to-Silence/515576425185523