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For Those Who are Looking for Farm Work (Why we’re not hiring)

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Requests for work on our farm are becoming quite regular! Sometimes it’s backpackers turning up on our doorstep asking if there’s work available, but more often it’s people calling to introduce themselves and see if there’s any work going here. Many times it’s from people who are genuinely interested in working on an organic farm, and it’s great to see the interest out there and that people are being proactive looking for employment….

But, I don’t think it’s clear from our website (how most job seeking people find us) that we are a very small, family run market garden. The market garden is actually only about 1 acre in size and not generating enough work (or income) to support employees. Rick sometimes even works full time engineering hours on top of the farming, because the market garden is not often a full time job…and because he gets a lot of help from the children and I πŸ™‚

Rick takes care of crop planning, garden bed prep, mineral applications and sowing. The children do a lot of weeding and some harvesting, and I take care of all the sales/orders, packing, a lot of the correspondence and most of the harvesting. And the great thing about this, is that we know what’s going on, right from seed to sales and can provide a higher level of customer service because of that. I remember reading in a market gardening book how beneficial it is, for example, for the farmer to be the one selling his produce at a market, and not just an employee. When people are shopping at a farmers market, it’s generally because they care about where their food came from, how it was grown, etc. And they often want information about the more unusual varieties, how they might use/cook certain produce and the like. The farmer and his family know these things, but a seasonal or temporary worker probably doesn’t.

So, the fact that there’s not enough work here for an employee is the main reason we don’t hire, and the other is that although the market garden provides enough income to keep us going, it’s not enough to warrant paying an employee. We laughed last year at tax time when we discovered our taxable income is technically below the Australian poverty line! We certainly never feel poor, and the massive tax deductions involved with the first few years of setting up a business had a lot to do with the tiny taxable income, but you get the point…it’s not worth hiring anyone when we’re this small!

If you are reading this and you are looking for work in the Toowoomba area on an organic farm, you could try Birchgrove Farm. They specialise in the best chicken eggs you can get in our district (even growing organic produce to feed to the chickens!) and they also sell various beautiful organic greens at the Sunday PCYC markets. I know they were setting up worker accommodation on site, so obviously they hire from time to time. I hope those of you looking for work can find it, but I just wanted to mention on our website here, that we’re not hiring (might save some of you the trip out here to ask!)

Market Gardening- What About Food Waste?

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Many of you have seen it on the ABC’s War On Waste series. Or you’ve seen it with your own eyes and through your own research….modern agriculture practices, combined with stringent supermarket criteria, produce a LOT of food waste.

Woolworths made a step in the right direction, with their The Odd Bunch vegetable/fruit selections. We used to buy them before we went organic, and were pleased to see that at least some of the stranger or undersized looking produce items were making it to the shelf!

But what about in the market garden setting? What food waste do we produce, and what do we do with waste?

For starters, we create very little food waste. You can never predict exactly how many lettuce will sell, or how many people will want cauliflower next week, but you can get a rough idea and plant accordingly. Rick puts a decent effort into crop planning (his engineer traits come out in this- you should see the spread sheets!) and as a result our production is fairly well suited to customer demand.

Sometimes there will be a glut. Right now it’s cos lettuce, most likely because it’s winter and people aren’t really eating cold salads and aren’t used to using cos lettuce in any other way. What do we do with the surplus?

Generally one of three things:

-Feed the sheep. The sheep LOVE lettuce, cabbage…even pumpkin as we discovered this week. And as we’ve not had decent rain for months, our paddock is quite depleted of pasture. The surplus lettuce are saving us from buying lucerne for the sheep.

  • Feed the chickens and ducks. Man can not live by bread alone, just as the fowl can’t live bye grain alone. They adore greens, and are daily the recipients of extra or damaged produce. Thanks to all these greens, our eggs have beautiful rich orange yolks, and the fowl are in good health.
  • Return the crop to the soil. I used to struggle with this as it seems like waste, when you’ve been brought up not to waste food! But there’s nothing wasteful about enriching your soil. Sometimes we even grow a green manure crop, purely to mow back into the soil and boost the soil structure and nutrient levels. Presently we have a half a row of overgrown bok choi and mesclun mix. Rick actually likes it when this occurs, because we started out with heavy black clay soil. It was like trying to dig into a big block of modelling clay. Organic matter was desperately needed to remedy this soil, and 18 months later, here we are with completely different soil structure. It makes sense that if you are constantly removing produce from the soil, that you should also be often giving back to the soil.

Rick is also a big fan of doing any trimming of veg (beet greens, brassica leaves etc) at the harvest site, so all those greens go right back to the soil.

The only time food ‘waste’ leaves our property is when I offer it for sale as pet greens, or on odd occasions might sell seconds cabbage for sauerkraut.

A completely different story to mass agriculture isn’t it? And as for undersize or unusually shaped produce, we’re finding that we have less and less of that as our soil improves, but what we do have can still be used. If I have a few cabbages that are undersized, I can ask a customer if they mind having 2 smaller cabbages rather than one big one. Or I can add a few extra beets to the bunch if they’re little. It’s a small enough business that we can talk directly to the customers about their produce and work together to reduce the chance of food waste.

Happy Mother’s Day from Birdsong! (and this weeks delivery run)

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Happy Mother’s Day, 2018 πŸ™‚

And with the occasion, has come our first frost for the year, it looks lovely sparkling in the morning sun.

The garden is looking vibrant, and rainbow chard has just come back on. Rick planted extra rows of chard this rotation, so there’s an excellent supply.

The reminder to pray for rain came this week when we got a call to say 3 bores in our area have just gone dry! If ours goes dry then the market garden ceases to exist until the water is replenished. So please join us in praying for rain. Each day we see water truck after water truck spraying so much water for dust control and watering the new turf for the new Toowoomba Bypass. So maybe they’ll need to be more water conscious too…

The nut order has come in, so we now have raw organic almonds and raw organic cashews back in stock.

This weeks delivery run will be Sunday 20th May, 1-2:30pm for orders $40+ in Toowoomba. Get your order in by Saturday 19th, 8:30pm and mention you’d like delivery in the comments box of your order.

Have a beautiful day!

Our First Farm Tour…and the Apples have arrived

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Yesterday we hosted our first Birdsong Farm Tour. A great opportunity for locals to come and check out how we grow our veg and to pick Rick’s brains in regard to what to do to boost their soil health in home gardens.

Michele at Going Grey and Slightly Green Β has already posted a blog with loads of pics from the tour. Daughter of a photographer though I am, I’m a shocker for getting around to taking pics at classes/workshops. Too busy with the catering perhaps? Sounds like a reasonable excuse anyway!

So thank you Michele for your write up on the tour.

In other news, the apples have arrived! Some of you have already bought Gran Elly Orchard biologically organic apples before. Dennis Angelino is one of the few farmers out there who remineralises his soil, like us. So the apples are unlike what you buy from a supermarket.

We’ve got in Granny Smiths, Hi Earlys and Royal Galas. All delicious (we tested to make sure!). Actually, what has been interesting is that children tell me the apples are very filling. You don’t hear that often of apples, but then if the mineral content is there it only makes sense that you would feel more satisfied after eating these apples. They’re $5.50/kg and all first grade. If there is enough interest, we might get some juicing grade next time also, as I know we have juicers among our customers.

I’ve just uploaded these apples to the web store. If you buy some, I’d love your feedback.

Side note…corn is back! Looks like two rows are ripe at once, so there will be corn a plenty for the next week or so.

Earth Day 2018 and a big thank you to those who are helping us reduce plastic waste!

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It’s interesting timing. I was just thinking this past week that in the approximately 18 months we’ve been operating, we haven’t had to order more plastic bags and containers. At the start Rick bought a couple of boxes of tomato punnets and various sized bags for packing produce. You’d think after all those orders we’ve processed, we’d have needed more plastic.

BUT, we happen to have a wonderful clientele that are more than happy to have their veg orders packed into cardboard boxes, which can be recycled. It’s only small items like beans, cherry tomatoes and the organic dry goods we sell that we’ve been using plastic packaging for. And I hope as time goes on we’ll find sustainable and practical solutions for those items…so we can eradicate the plastic altogether.

April 22nd is Earth Day, and I want to thank you all for helping Birdsong Market Garden reduce plastic waste by accepting your orders in cardboard boxes πŸ™‚ It must be thousands of plastic bags that are not in local landfill, because you’ve been so cooperative with sustainable packing options.

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Birdsong Farm Tour, Saturday April 28th

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Finally, we’ve got a farm tour happening!

We can thank Simple Living Toowoomba for getting us organised with that.

When: Saturday 28th April, 10am-Midday

Where: 118 Boundary St, Cranley

Cost: $5 per adult. Children are welcome, just keep an eye on them. I hope to have the lawn tamed before the day, but at the moment it’s long and we do get the occasional eastern brown snake! Cost includes light refreshments after the tour.

What: A walk around the market garden with Farmer Rick, and a chance to see how we go about Nutrition farming and ask lots of questions πŸ™‚

RSVP: Please email Michele at simplelivingtoowoomba@gmail.com to book in for the tour.

NOTE: If it rains, the tour will be cancelled, as our garden becomes a sticky black-clay mess! Also, you might like to wear enclosed shoes (unless you like to earth-out).

And yes, you can purchase produce on the day if you like.

Jane Milburn Slow Clothing Workshop, Saturday March 3rd

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Many of you have seen the War on Waste series, by the ABC. If you have, you would have seen the horrendous volume of clothing Australia wastes and disposes of each year.

Jane Milburn is a Brisbane woman who is actively doing something about this issue and Australia’s attitude towards disposable fashion.

Jane is coming to Toowoomba Saturday March 3rd, 10am-Midday at 13-15 Blake St, Wilsonton. Cost is $10, payable on the day, to come and be educated and inspired as to how we can change our fashion footprint, learn to seek out sustainable clothing from natural fibers, upcycle used clothes and do simple mending to keep garments lasting longer.

BOOKINGS ESSENTIAL! email simplelivingtoowoomba@gmail.com to reserve your spot

for more info about Jane and her mission, check out http://textilebeat.com/

One of those Days

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5am, time to get up. But where I’d normally get into the routine happily, with no dramas, today I felt like crying…or vomiting. All of a sudden the enormity of the tasks hit and the stress that comes with it.

Rick wants to aim for the markets this weekend, which is a good idea, but the actual work it takes to prepare for that is messy. Waking to the prospect of more harvesting and market prep was a sobering thought. If that was all we had to do, then it would be simple. But it’s not. There’s 6 children to organise and care for (they do a lot to help, but they are still young and need some motivation!), endless farm chores, food to prepare etc. Maybe I shouldn’t list everything off or I’ll get overwhelmed again!

From 5am-8pm I don’t really stop moving or working, except sometimes for half an hour in the arvo to lie down and read for a while…but that is usually interrupted by a child coming to ask a question or complain about one of their siblings to me.

Rick seemed to recognise the problem straight away, just by looking at me. I hadn’t said a word about what was wrong, I was just getting ready to go out and harvest when he gave me a hug and said “it’s ok, you don’t need to harvest anything or work out there.” Then he offered to pack orders for me today etc. What a relief! He feels this way sometimes too, but he’s a lot better at just sitting down and stopping for a while until the motivation comes back.

We live such a blessed life…loads of wholesome food, sunshine, fresh air, family, friends etc. But it is also a LOT of work…and we like work, but sometimes it gets overwhelming.

I’ve been reading Grow, Hunt, Cook by Rohan Anderson. He’s a guy who left his office job and deteriorating health and moved to a property where he and his family could live off the land and produce food for themselves…he talks a lot about the supermarket culture, and how detached people are from their food. Most people have no idea how much effort goes into feeding a person, or how long some produce takes to grow…or how long it takes to process! Especially with meat you find this. People are happy to eat meat, but not to pay much for it, generally. But there’s a lot of work in raising an animal and butchering it. And it’s pretty hard to look into the eyes of a sweet ewe for example, and then take it’s life. I can’t do it still. I can help butcher, but not with the actual kill. Picking up a roast at the supermarket totally detaches you from the time, effort etc that goes into that roast.

Anyway, now I’m rambling. I just thought this post might help people see some of the time and energy that goes into producing real food…and the realities of living this dream πŸ™‚

Sugar Snaps are Back

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Sugar Snap peas are back πŸ™‚ And so is our ability to blog. We updated and then for weeks the blog wouldn’t function. Now it looks like all is back to normal.da

The rain has been wonderful, and the garden is thriving. So are some of the pests, but we’re working on it!

A few people have asked about our Christmas trading hours…we’ll be around Toowoomba for Christmas, so hours will be normal except we’ll obviously be closed on Christmas day itself.

Where We’re At

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Winter is definitely not as I originally pictured it for this year! When Rick first started the market garden he’d had the (fleeting) thought that maybe winter would be our off season when we work on other projects/jobs etc.

But then books started coming in the mail with titles like “The Winter Harvest Handbook.” About a year ago Rick had designed a new kitchen to replace our 1980’s one, which is starting to fall apart. When winter harvest books started arriving, it became apparent that a new kitchen wouldn’t be coming this winter! But that’s ok, there’s no rush and in the first year of a new business, taking a season off isn’t such a wise plan.

So throughout winter the planting continued. The harvesting continued. The veggies kept selling. And more and more ideas and projects sprung up, just like the seedlings in the garden.

One is the strawberry patch. We’ve planted three rows, 3 different varieties, all of which are long season. We’ve just started harvesting the odd few now, though it appears we’re competing with the local wildlife for them! Maybe one day there’ll be enough to sell, but with 6 strawberry loving children, don’t get your hopes up!

The herb patch also came this winter. What is that ugly white barrier, you say? I know it’s daggy, but the morning after hares invade and devour your whole coriander crop, your first thought is not on the aesthetics, but on how you can quickly protect what remains with what you have on hand! And it’s worked, so that’s something. Actually, the barrier may have been the second thought. First thought was that Rick’s got a lot of live target practice hopping around out there.

Anyway, the new crop of coriander is up, and safe πŸ™‚

And this is the proposed tomato patch for this spring/summer. We’ve got a decent variety of colours and sizes coming in the tomato department this year. I’m so looking forward to it, because the surplus is what I make our tomato sauce, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and more out of. And it all has a much better flavour than the supermarket versions, as it’s come from homegrown tomatoes.

The trellis hasn’t gone up yet, but now that our supports have arrived that won’t be far off…especially as the tomatoes will need to get in the ground soon. Those seedlings are huge!

The other unexpected factor this winter has been the warm temps. Looks like our mulberry tree thinks it’s spring already. And we still have a few cherry tomatoes fruiting from last summer!

Working through the winter season has been a good thing after all…the second half of the market garden is almost full now. Rick’s a machine and prepares row after row each week (and then thinks he hasn’t achieved much)! We have our surprises and set backs, but over all this venture is turning out beautifully.

Introducing Mizuna

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Ever tried mizuna? In this market gardening journey we’re discovering lots of veg that we previously either hadn’t heard of or hadn’t tried.

Ripe and part of our present produce list, is mizuna. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a lot like rocket, but I find it slightly more peppery than rocket.

Nutritionally, mizuna contains molybdenum, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc, and selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, pyridoxine, thiamin and riboflavin.

And what do you do with it? Like rocket, it’s pretty versatile. Most often it’s used raw in salad mixes with leaves of more subtle flavours. But you can definitely be creative with this one. You can saute it alongside other greens as a side dish (Rick’s favourite use of it!), add it to soups, risottos, pasta dishes and stir frys.

It’s one of those plants that can be eaten at whatever stage you like too…you can sprout it, grow microgreens, or eat the baby mizuna leaves…or use the mature leaves (we’re harvesting the leaves when they’re mature).

So if you’re wanting to try something new, give mizuna a go!

Sourcing Local Produce in Toowoomba

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As Local as it Gets

We are very blessed in Toowoomba to be right next door to a vast array of vegetable farms. The Lockyer Valley is just full of them.

BUT, with the ever growing food-miles-consciousness, some are looking for produce that’s so close it’s practically on their doorstep…in their own backyard. And looking for produce that’s not only spray-free, but grown in soil that’s also not subject to overspray from nearby conventional farms.

This is where we can help. Birdsong Market Garden is only 8.9kms from Grand Central, Toowoomba…about a 13 minute drive. Close hey?

Our neighbours are not farmers, and therefore are not spraying anything nasty that could possibly waft onto our veggies.

Our soil has been analysed and is in the process of remineralisation (the minerals, microbes etc have already been added to the soil, but the assimilation can take time…already we are seeing great results!).

The only place this produce travels before you get it is from our back paddock to the cold room (less than 100 meters), and it travels there on a harvest cart that Rick pushes along by hand. Most produce is stored in the cold room for a maximum of 7 days, and then it is replaced with a fresh harvest. The exception to our 7 day rule is long storage crops like root veggies which obviously can live happily in the cold room much longer.

If you are a cafe/restaurant looking for local, seasonal, organic produce, we can help. Or if you are simply someone wanting to buy nutritious farm gate produce in the Toowoomba area, we can help.

We’re open every afternoon from midday-6pm (except Saturday) and you are welcome to drop in, check out the produce and find out more. Contact details are on the home page πŸ™‚

Plastic Free July

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How you can make a diference at Birdsong

As you’ll see in the photos, we’re definitely not purists in our waste reduction efforts.

But we’re getting there. Reusing glass bottles, making our own beeswax wraps instead of cling wrap, using eco mesh bags for some of our produce, and reusable stainless steel straws for smoothies are some of the efforts we’ve adopted.

But then there’s the market garden. That gets a little harder! We have a handful of plastic-free customers who we are happy to accommodate, and would be happy to see more. But as a business, do you know it can be hard to buy packaging that is eco-friendly, and yet not so expensive that is pushes the price of the produce up?

We do have several sizes of paper bags, but these are only good for certain items. Anything too moist, and it disintegrates the bag! And there’s a lot of energy/water etc that’s pretty much wasted in the process of making paper too.

We also have cardboard boxes (and often reuse boxes that we received mail or other items in for veg orders).

We also have reusable mesh produce bags from www.ecoproducebags.com which are available for sale for $2ea here. These are strong, washable and breathable. The reason Rick chose these over cotton bags is because there’s actually a lot more of a negative environmental impact in the production of the cotton bags. And the cotton wears out faster.

For Plastic Free July, we are now offering 1 free reusable mesh produce bag for every $20 you spend πŸ™‚

Rick and I have talked about how to incorporate more use of eco friendly packaging. We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas! At the moment I can handle transferring peoples produce into their own bags, but as the customer base builds and we get busier, it’s too time consuming to do this.

But right now, the best ways you can help to reduce waste with your veg at Birdsong is to BYO box, green bags, eco produce bags…and, to let us know if you are happy to have your veg packed loose into a box for you to repackage yourself at home.

So for us, Plastic Free July is a great time to ponder these things and see what you all think too!

In Season: Red Russian Kale

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Member of the Brassica family

100 grams of kale gives you 333% of your daily vitamin A requirements!

100 grams of kale provides 587% of your daily vitamin K needs

100 grams of kale also gives you 200% of your vitamin C RDI

Also contains minerals such as copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorous

Growing up, I don’t think we ever ate kale…I doubt I’d even heard of it. Now it’s all the rage, and when you see how versatile and nutritious kale is, it’s no wonder why.

Kale is a winter crop, and even thrives on light frosts (so it’s loving our garden right now!).

 

Ever heard of the Dirty Dozen? It’s a list of the 12 most risky fruits and vegetables to buy conventionally. They are the ones with the highest numbers and concentrations of toxic sprays. Kale is on that list. As a matter of fact, up to 55 different chemicals have been found in varying degrees on conventionally grown kale (you can check it out at whatsonmyfood.org).

We grow it organically here and the only pest we find on it is aphids, which are gently washed off in a bubbler with water. It’s like giving the kale a soft spa bath in pure water. This means the kale is ready to use straight out of the fridge, whereas conventionally grown kale comes with the advice to be washed and then swished in a saline solution for 10-15 minutes to remove dirt, fungicides and chemicals!

How do you use Kale? I love to just slice it up and saute it in butter with zucchini, rainbow chard, carrots or whatever else is in season and in the fridge! Then add some salt and pepper and you have a very tasty green side dish. A classic French variation is to add some garlic and balsamic vinegar to the mix….mmmm, this is making me hungry.

Otherwise you can slice or puree it and add it to soups.

Or smoothies.

Or use it raw in salads…or chopped up in frittatas, quiche or savoury muffins.

Or make yourself some kale chips.

Loads of options! So this winter, why not give this green nutrient powerhouse a go? πŸ™‚

And the Reality Is…

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Most people enjoy honesty. Maybe they’re even relieved by it. So many blogs especially, will highlight the high points of someones life, achievements or whatever. But what’s going on behind the scenes?

Well, sit back, relax and have a glimpse at what this week at Birdsong Market Garden was like…

School holidays are here, we homeschool and so the children are with me all the time anyway. But it’s sweet to have a break from lessons. Contrary to what so many people seem to think about there being a lack of socialising for homeschoolers, we’re inundated with people at times. School holidays especially. Sleepovers, visits and the like…it’s all happening. So on top of our 6 little farmlings, we had my niece 2-3 days a week while my sister works in town. Then there were friends having sleepovers and friends visiting from out of town and friends coming for dinner. Friends are a blessing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s busy! About 2 days ago I just crashed. All I’d wanted these school holidays was a day off, but instead it’s been lots of extra work, and I’d broken out in a very itchy rash, had to avoid dairy…blah blah blah. Anyway, that morning I just dropped on the couch and let the family fend for themselves for a while. I was pooped!

We also had neighbours dropping in to give us surplus mulberries, and another more distant neighbour coming in search of fertile light sussex chicken eggs. Animals bring people together, I can tell you that! I was able to give her some fertile eggs, though couldn’t guarantee their light sussex purity as we have 4 very effective roosters on the farm, and only one of them is a light sussex. She noticed our lone duck (his mate was eaten by a fox ages ago) and so came back several days later to say she knew a guy who wanted to pass on his 4 ducks, who were making too much of a mess of his yard. He wanted chooks instead. So I contacted him and we did a trade. His 4 ducks (one of whom is sitting on eggs) for 4 of our hens. We’ve got loads of hens, and two of them are sitting on eggs, so there’ll be even more soon!

Rick has been building the propagation house…our seedling nursery. This will be a huge help in freeing up ground space during the seasons. Instead of a plant needing say, 12 weeks in the ground, it can spend the first 6-8 weeks of it’s life protected in the propagation house, and then move into the paddock. While it’s in the nursery, something else can be occupying that space in the paddock…maximising crop varieties and yields. Building this poly-tunnel has been a big job. Primarily because it’s huge and often needs an extra set of hands. We’ve been so blessed to have a friend of Rick’s offer to help now and then in exchange for some produce. Big help. But he has his own life and own children, so most of the time when Rick needs help, he calls on me. And having 6 children, loads of animals and homeschooling etc, I’m not often just sitting around looking for something to do. So there I’ll be, cooking lunch or something, and Rick will call me to come and give him a hand with the propagation house, or hold some steel while he cuts it. It’s incredible how much Rick has been able to do alone, but sometimes he needs help.

Technology, ah, technology. We live in just the right location to miss out on luxuries like NBN and even ADSL. And mobile networks other than Telstra. So for the three years we’ve lived here, we put up with little reception and VERY slow internet speeds. Then came the business and Rick wisely said we need some reliable service. So a good portion of the holidays was spent sorting that out. It should have been simple, but porting a mobile number turns out to be very messy when you’ve forgotten that the old account was in your husbands name and not your own. I spent days on andΒ  off the phone between our old and new providers trying to get it sorted. But now I can actually receive calls and hear the person on the other end properly. And use internet that loads pages at a reasonable speed. One day I got a photo of our 6 year old asleep at the computer. She’d literally dropped off while waiting for her Reading Eggs page to load! That’s how bad our internet used to be.

Every day more equipment for the market garden arrives. It’s all coming together slowly. We’d been all geared up to get a shade net over the whole plot to filter the hot summer sun and make working in summer that little bit more bearable. Then we got the quote back. Gulp. It was about $20k more than we expected! So Rick the DIY king, now plans to order the materials and do it himself. He’ll try just about anything!

That’s a bit of recent life at Birdsong for you. Today is Rick’s birthday, and he’s spent it working on the farm, with the exception of a quick trip to the Meringandan Pub with me for lunch.