Note to self – don’t buy a farm surrounded by gravel roads

Another note to self – buy as close to the coast as I can afford

The evening I arrived at the next farm, I wondered how long I would last. I was not used to the dust – it was everywhere and the buildings were old and looked like I may be joined by various creepy crawlies in the dimly lit bathroom and caravan where I was sleeping. The farm, although still in New South Wales, was about 35 minutes from Canberra near a town called Gundaroo and was run by a 65 year woman who had been farming here for 30 years. Compared to Kendall, the landscape was harsh, dry and rocky, and what wasn’t cleared was covered in eucalypts.

The dust was throughout the house and the work van. I asked my host how it managed to get everywhere – it was all over the computer equipment in the office, on all the papers and on any flat surfaces. She told me the house wasn’t finished and there were gaps where the dust could enter but it was a farm and farms were never clean.

Farms apparently were also dangerous places. I was told not to wear shorts in case I came across brown snakes. The entry to the bathroom area was essentially a work shed full of farm tools and equipment and swarmed with bush flies. I did not want to have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night as I stumble half asleep out the caravan and through these tools.

When I woke the following morning, I still wondered how long I would manage to stick it out. I told myself it was character building and I was sure to learn something.

One of my first tasks was to help empty the food scraps collected from a local restaurant into the worm baths together with pig manure. The food scraps had been collected on a Friday and it was now Wednesday – it was rotting fast. For the rest of the day, no matter how many times I washed my hands, I could not get the smell of rotting food off my hands and fingers. Next time I would need to use rubber gloves.

The 100 acre farm had ¼ acre of vegetable production, about 100 chickens for eggs, a dozen or so pigs and a cemetery. The pigs were used for soil regeneration as well as for meat. The pork meat balls on my first night were delicious and so was the food throughout the duration of my stay – most days we had salad from leaves collected in the garden – lettuces, rocket, mustard greens, baby chard and the most delicious tomatoes.

Over the first few days, I made vegetable beds using a broadfork in the searing heat. Being small and light was clearly a disadvantage as my progress was slow and I could hardly get the fork into the ground even if I rocked back and forth on it. (Perhaps after three weeks here I might get a balancing act in a circus).   We distributed trichogramma wasp larvae to deal with the caterpillar problem and erected rabbit proof netting on trellises to salvage the beans. I helped catch three not-so-small piglets that had managed to escape the electric fence and were having a ball running around the field.

As the days passed, it became hotter and by 9:30 in the morning it was above 30 degrees. The first of these very hot days, I thought I would pass out. There was a tap for drinking water near the vegetable gardens and I thankfully drank from it only to realise there were tiny worms swimming in my cup. They were mosquito larvae.

By lunchtime, I was exhausted from the heat, feeling nauseous and lightheaded. I was in no mood to eat anything and kept drinking as much water as I could. I longed for a swim but there was no swimming pool apart from a dam, which I’m sure would have been akin to having a mud bath with all the dust and God knows what else swimming in it. I had already come across a shingleback lizard, a funny looking creature about 60 cm long and 20 cm wide that looked like a baby relative of the dinosaur. It was black with the tail and head looking much the same with funny scales on its back.

Reptiles, the dust and the heat….a far cry from the lush green fields I long for on my farm.


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