Seeds ready for planting
Winter this year has been dark and rainy. We've been in drought more often than not over the past decade, so it's a change to hear the sound of raindrops on our tin roof. The cold days encouraged us closer to the fire, and encroaching darkness at 5pm made it easy to justify a glass of lovely local Wrattonbully wine made by our mates across the paddocks!
The change was welcome in other ways too. The aquifers that keep our stock watered are slowly re-filling, and the soil has softened, gradually becoming more friable and sustaining. The number of birds seems to have increased too, and we have a shy kookaburra perching on our Hills Hoist for the first time in years.
The poetically named (!) Mosquito Creek, meandering through our property
Over the past couple of weeks, spring has finally arrived. Days are lengthening and there is a gradual opening towards the warmth. The wattles glow yellow against the sky, and thoughts turn to planting.
My Strawberry, Mini Italian Blue and Ontos Oval popcorn seeds are all destined for a little patch adjacent to our farmhouse, in the hope that I can keep the hungry cockatoos at bay. I will irrigate the seeds with water fresh from the aquifer: freezing cold and clear, it is drawn up from the limestone caves hidden deep below the soil.
Soil temperature is crucial for germinating seeds. Too cold and they rot in the ground, or fall prey to hungry insects. Planting too late is equally perilous: frosts can start early in autumn in this southern part of Australia, and the corn needs to dry on the stalk. A compromise is reached: the most precious seeds will be coaxed to life inside – pampered in sieved seed-raising mix and safe in the warmth.
Scattering the humates
I want to make these plants strong. Our soils in Australia are fragile and ancient, and need tender care. I'm trying to build up the soil structure so that the plants emerge quickly from the ground, and have all the nutrients they need to fight off pests and disease without the use of pesticides etc. I'm going to experiment using humates: these unassuming pellets bolster the soil's capacity to hold water and boost the number of beneficial bugs.
I'll also nurture the soil with seaweed. Our local South Australian coastline is a rich source of this amazing resource, and although collection is strictly regulated, it is possible to obtain a rich compost that will provide an ideal growth medium for really nutritious corn.
I'm hoping that, by doing this, I might indirectly help people become healthier. It might seem far-fetched, but I believe that, in time, we will realise that we are in fact deeply symbiotic with the world around us. One writer comments that we are, in fact, 99% microbe (www.humanfoodproject.com), and I'm willing to bet that there is a much closer relationship between soil, plant and human than we currently understand.
Coastline one hour's drive from our farm
I'm also pretty keen to try to get more highly-coloured foods into our diets. Many of these contain really high levels of phytonutrients, and in the right balance these are found to contribute more and more to physical and mental wellbeing.
Too many of our children lack essential nutrients, eating a narrow range of foods that are over-processed and forced to grow from soils that are pushed to the limit of endurance, supplemented by heavily synthesised fertilisers.
To me, this is a clarion call. These little seeds, still dormant, will soon be transformed by the darkness, pressure and warmth of the soil. My hope is that they don’t just survive, but that their roots grow deep and strong, enabling me to tell a different story of the earth, diversity and how we can show our care.