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1st impressions - by Wild Writing guest Bastian Fox Phelan

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

On the first day here, Farmer Pete takes the writers on a tour of the farm. I like the way he explains the systems they have put in place since moving to this property. The way the chook pen connects to the small vegetable garden, nourishing the soil. The grains he ferments in buckets to grow fresh feed for those chickens. The large garden at the back of the sloping block, only 18 months old and already so productive, everything established on solid foundations to provide the best conditions to grow.

I stroke the orange and yellow striped marigolds in their wicking beds, and think about the first garden I planted when I lived in Ashfield, an old suburb of Sydney near Paramatta Road. I had thought that gardening was complicated, and in many ways it is. There's a lot to learn. But then there's that magic: plant a seed and it will grow. It's what life does, against all odds.

Farmer Pete shows us the yarrow and the comfrey, grown close to the compost so he can harvest it and put it back into the soil. He asks, "What is a bee's favourite colour?" And I reply, "purple." Then he asks what a bee's second favourite colour is. I don't know. "Blue", he says. It surprises me. Blue makes me think of ocean, and my home in Mulubinba Newcastle. I tuck that information away for later use.

Near the garden is a purpose built fire pit, not for family barbecues under the stars, but for making carbon. Pete explains how the fire pit burns wood in a way that makes no smoke, so the wood can be reduced to compact pieces of carbon. The microbes like these surfaces, he says. They attach themselves to tiny spaces, colonising the charred black lumps with life. The charcoal goes into the soil and the microbes get to work, making the earth come alive.

Pete tells us how they've made all their own soil for the garden bed. He gestures to the compacted, dry brown earth beyond the garden bed and talks about how the soil here was destroyed by farming. This is a different way of farming, one with a lightness of touch, one that believes in the unseen forces that transform the earth.

Wild Writing Retreat, 21

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