Henry Lawson

The Mooroopna farmer’s market second hand bookseller’s ‘ Would you like a plastic bag for that?’ chaffed. What I needed was the seven dollars in loose change from my wife to pay for the purchase; and not his suspicions. Yes. I had the anthology of Henry Lawson poems and short stories under my left arm. I was not slinking off. I was standing my ground.

My relationship with Henry, one of our nation’s preeminent bards, has been unfortunate. My first volume of his stories had not survived the interminable undergraduate house shifts. Worse was my attendance at Leonard Teale’s one-man-show recitals of Lawson classics in Darwin. Andrea had bought the tickets. Nabil refused to go; as did all others. I had worked through the night before and that day and was too exhausted to refuse. We sat in the front row of the tiny intimate theatre. I could had leaned forward and tapped Leonard on the knee. He could have leaned forward in response to my yawns. We left Henry at interval.

I have not read Henry for many years. Then, my life was urban, and I had remarkable family links to his life. My grandmother lived on the lower north shore of Sydney at the time Henry regularly descended into alcoholic oblivion. Then, she lived with us and read the Sydney Morning Herald, cover to cover, like Henry. My parents were married at Lavender Bay. My sister, who now lives near Blues Point Rd, once pointed the church out to me as she hurled their Toyota Hi-lux round the narrow streets like a moto GP driver, not Formula 1.

Now, I live in the bush. A bush that is so distant to that of Henry’s. With the NBN and refrigerative air-conditioning, life is more connected and comfortable. I am able to discern qualities in local rural characters that are akin to Henry’s but the familial affinity that I experienced when last I read Henry has shifted to me viewing the text as a museum exhibit.

Hail

Last night the weather App showed a thin line of storm clouds snaking along the northern border of Victoria. Red and yellow spots indicated intense activity. One tweet from Mildura showed hail scattered over grass, the size of table tennis balls. Now, our green young walnuts are not much bigger. We are located 100 km south of the Murray river. We hoped the storm clouds would pass harmlessly to our north. If hail were to hit our crop, the outcome is certain.

Two years ago, hail hit our neighbours’ apple crops one week prior to harvest. They had huge losses. Even with netting above the crop, ice pooled and cut through. The leaves on our trees were stripped and shredded. The walnuts has been taken two weeks prior to the event.

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Last night our season could have stopped. So quick. So complete. After all the preparation and costs.

Instead, we had gentle rain to kiss the trees. One disaster avoided.

Irrigating walnuts

The delivery of water becomes increasingly important for walnut trees with Christmas approaching, as the temperature rises and the future kernel develops and fills the nuts. Lack of water causes shrivel of the kernel. Shrivel is dry shrunken kernel that may be rubbed off like sand from your feet after a day at the beach.

Our dam water is opaque with mud and sediment. Before passing out to the sprinklers it is filtered. In the beginning we had one filter but as the volume of water pumped increased, a second was added.

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The filtration unit sits in the pump house, next to our dam. My father in law helped me plant the conifers, so we named James boulevard after him.

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It is most important to maintain the integrity of the irrigation system. Leaks are the commonest problem. They vary. The tubing chewed by a hare creates an irritation. If they severe the tubing, its a headache. If the tractor slashes the 25 mm poly pipe, its a nightmare. If a sheep destroys a 50 mm central PVC pipe its a tsunami. One local walnut grower used to ride around his orchard on a bicycle listening for leaks. Its a romantic image. I use the ATV.

At this time of year the pump house fills the sprayers towed behind the tractor to deliver copper. Its quick and efficient.

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Having water available for the trees creates a gnawing pressure throughout the growing season:

The level of the dam must be maintained by ordering a 4 ML delivery every 5-9 days. Its done through the web-site of the local water authority but sometimes requires a phone call to the control room should a hiccup occur. They control the delivery of water via wireless operated gates from the channel at the south end of the farm. They must have enough water in their system to meet our needs and those of all the other farmers using the channel.

The pumping system must work.

The irrigation system must be in tact and maintained.

Throughout the drought we had to get by with about 35% of our usual water allocation because of the low levels of water in Eilden Dam. The trees are much larger now and we have had full allocations for several years. Let’s hope that climate change does not take us back to those difficult times of water scarcity.

2014-2015 Walnut crop

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Nuts are setting on the trees. The miracle has been taking place over the last few weeks. After months of branches of barren sticks, the greenery is welcome and reassuring. Through November and December the nuts increase in size, the leaves multiply and the branches appear on which next year’s growth will develop.

January and February may bring unwelcome heatwaves that burn the nuts. Let’s hope not. All we can do is encourage leaf growth to provide shade for the crop by watering and fertigating.

I hope the nuts will look like this right up to harvest in April.

Sponge cake

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Came home on Thursday to this vision. Seated at the table were Peter and Lena, friends with years of growing & trading experience and makers of fine wine and salami: the best that I have tried. Even after a busy day, cake and friends produce lots of laughs.

Patch-budding walnuts

Its that time of year again when the sap is rising in rootstock and budwood is within easy reach. Most of our trees are budded. Only the most recalcitrant remain : the last four southern rows in the old orchard. We are not budding these rows with chandler, but the other variety. It is luxuriant, large and early. By placing them on the southern boundary they should provide a windbreak.

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Here are three trees. The one in the middle was budded today. It has the tail of tape. The two other trees were budded last year. They have been pruned high as its so windy. Today the northeast wind is hot, taking us to 37 C. We should come back and see how well they have done by the end of the season.

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This photo shows the resilience of walnut trees. There is a bud on the shoot that has risen from the roots of the tree felled by the wind. This budding will make use of the established root system. A fully productive walnut tree should ensue.

In the background are our neighbour’s apples under a canopy to prevent hail damage. Hail came one week before his harvest two years ago. The screen was present but the hail made its way through. We had harvested our walnuts two weeks before. Apples are late.

Walnut hedge

The video of the walnut hedge passing by the tractor at 4.4 km/hr was intended to be here. I connected the ipad, on which I filmed the journey, to the apple computer; presto – the computer refused to interact and jammed, requiring a ‘force quit’. Something I’ve not done before. In addition, I don’t think my WP account allows me to upload videos.

I uploaded the video to my FB site without text or sound. For those able to access my FB account, this text may make some sense.

A baby could crawl faster than I drove the tractor today. The clip shows me travelling down 1.5 rows in 3 minutes 30 seconds. How long would it take to complete 132 rows?

But, at this time of year the leaves are stunning in the sunlight against the bluest sky. The newest are like robins, midst the smokey green of those in transition.