The changing of the seasons is always a busy time on the farm. No matter which change it is. The secret to not becoming overwhelmed by it all is to work with the seasons rather than trying to recreate another climate or season at the wrong time of the year.
From autumn to winter we prepare the paddocks by applying aged chicken manure and other organic additives. Seeding will begin just after the season breaks and as we don’t ever know exactly when that will be, we need to be ready when it does. The bee hives are shut down for winter – we remove their top box and leave just the brood to fend for itself through the short, cold days. Shutting down to one box means they have less area to keep warm and less need to go out foraging during the damp, dark winter. And for ourselves we are busy chopping and stacking firewood in preparation for the cold winter ahead.
During the short days of winter we build more vegetable gardens – this has been a work in progress over a number of years, but the cool days of winter are great for shoveling dirt, compost and mulch and preparing beds for spring planting. Winter plantings are nearing completion and we harvest cabbages, cauliflower, garlic and onions. Mid winter brings lambing and all the delight that is new lambs in the paddock and we could spend hours watching them frolic through the green winter grasses and follow their mums around, learning how to be sheep. It also brings the task of tagging and tailing the lambs which I always enjoy as we count to see how many boys and how many girls we’ve had this year.
From winter to spring, we are busy finishing the garden beds for summer vegetable planting, adding rotted animal manure, re-starting compost beds as the days warm up and growing seedlings under cover, waiting for the soil to warm just enough to be welcoming to those tender plants which will provide food for us next year. Once the soil warms to around 20 degrees Celsius we plant and water as needed to ensure they get a great start in life. The bees start to get very active too and we put new boxes on the their hives to collect their honey.
Spring days see afternoons warming and days lengthening which draws us outside to pull weeds for the chooks, turn compost, check seedlings, and check on calves being born. We on-sell the heifers to other hobby farmers so that they can also delight in the beautiful Dexter breed – a naturally small Irish, breed which are very placid and can be used for both beef and milk – although taking beef from them precludes them from becoming milkers! We slow grow the steers for two years before taking them for the freezer – the meat is delicious and tender and definitely worth the wait.
From spring to summer we start mulching and shading our veggies – getting them ready to stand up to the harsh reality of an Australian summer in a Mediterranean climate and we introduce a bull to the girls in preparation for next year’s calving. There is plenty of feed in the paddocks and the dam is full – it is always a beautiful time on the farm.
Summer is spent protecting plants, watering, beginning to harvest the goodness and staying cool during the heat of the middle part of the day. We often spend time indoors when its really hot, doing other farm-related planning, researching and reading. Summer evenings are spent feeding animals as the rate of feed growth in the paddock begins to dwindle in relation to the amount of rain we don’t get over summer. The chooks will be at their best laying time and we collect a lot of eggs from them!
From summer to autumn we spend our time harvesting the beautiful produce that is summer – pumpkins, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, rocket, sorrel, basil, thyme, oregano, peas and beans. Picking for salads or preserving, drying, fermenting and pickling for later in the year. Anyone who has ever grown a food garden will tell you that there is nothing better than eating food you grew yourself – and I will always agree with them.
To me, autumn always means soup – once I start making soup then it is officially autumn which is my favourite season of all of them! I like nothing better on a cool autumn day than soup made from summer produce. Pumpkin with roast capsicum is one of my favourites and I wrote about it here, including the recipe.
We begin to harvest our meat supply for the year too. Our lambs are generally around 6-8 months old and are ready for the freezer if we have had a reasonable amount of feed in the paddocks over summer, and our steers from the year before are getting to a good size for the freezer too.
I love the changing of the seasons, the hope and change that comes with them – hope of rain, or warmth or relief or new growth. I also love the cycle of growth, production and then resting – even though we always have something to do on the farm there are times across the seasons when we can rest and enjoy the natural beauty around us and just love being here.
While we experienced some of this when we lived in the city, being on the farm makes it much more obvious and we are much more among the elements and more in tune with the seasons and how they affect everything we do. We can’t climate control our farm and I wouldn’t want to even if we could – the cold of winter makes me appreciate the warmth of spring, the heat of summer makes me appreciate the cooling of autumn. Each has its place in the cycle of life and I feel more at one with it when I respect nature’s cycles and live according to them.