Autumn at Home – The Silver Lining in the Health Crisis

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Of all the times to be interrupting our usual busyness and spending more time at home, what season could be lovelier than autumn? The ground is still warm, there’s water in the tanks and there’s still sunshine to get a vast range of vegetables growing. Yes, it may be scary to see empty supermarket shelves, but all the more reason to get planting. Physical separation from others doesn’t mean we can’t still have cups of tea in the garden and chat at a safe distance – even if we choose to bring our own cup. Handwashing may be a health necessity, but it’s so much more satisfying when those hands have garden soil on them.

I feel very grateful that permaculture has connected me and my family with a community of people who care about being skilled up in good old fashioned productivity and resourcefulness. Uncertain times are easier to face when we have a routine of practical strategies to attend to, and when we know that we’re in this together, young and old, frail and strong.

I’m going to do a quick whip around the home, the garden, the extended family and the community to share a few things we’re focusing on at present – to keep fit and well, to look after each other, to prepare for the months ahead and to manage worry.

HOME & FAMILY

  • Team Planning.┬á Without the usual routine of the school day and work commuting, we’ve come together as a family more purposefully than usual, planning the day ahead over breakfast and the longer term in the evenings. Our usual roles in the family have morphed a bit. It’s a rather sudden initiation into the more grown-up, responsible world for our child, but it feels timely too.
  • Sharing the Work. There’s more food prep, cleaning, family care and general homesteading required than usual. And there’s adjustment to accommodating extra office and school activities in what was already a pretty tight living space – we’re all learning more about each other’s needs, tolerances, superpowers, and how we can help.
  • Rationing. (The ‘reduce’ in ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’). I was already pretty frugal but now I’m The Enforcer. We have a family agreement that Mum effectively holds the key to the pantry, otherwise all our planning will come undone. Extra care to make sure that nothing gets wasted, because every day that we can delay a shopping visit is another day that we haven’t shared that bug around – plus another shopper not missing out on buying what they need.
  • Crisis as Learning Opportunity. We’ve been on a community resilience path for a while, usually with climate change and its related crises as our main driver, but the pandemic is going to test our preparedness and no doubt we’ll do things differently in future. In reality, we’re probably not many meals ahead of our neighbours – but we can all help each other with one thing or another. I especially hope that teleconferencing and remote work can become much more standard and replace much of the travel and commuting that we’re used to.
  • Wee Wipes. It’s a wee thing. But it’s also a big thing. I’m not quite ready to abandon loo paper for number twos… but for a ladylike dab dry, cloth seems to me like a perfectly acceptable and almost infinitely reusable alternative to paper. So I found a large, soft old towel yesterday, cut it into handy sized strips and did a deal with my crafty neighbour to overlock the edges for me. Combined with a prewash soaking bucket next to the loo, here wee go…

GARDEN

  • Seed Collecting, Saving and Sharing. Through benign neglect, one of our veg beds had lots of plants flowering and going to seed over summer. This kept the insects (and their bird predators) very happy indeed. Now we’re collecting seed of celery, spring onion, silverbeet and parsley to re-sow, save and to share.
  • Pruning. Weather is perfect this week in Adelaide to prune deciduous fruit trees and to recycle those prunings wherever possible into garden stakes, chook bedding, mulch for paths and trees, and kindling for wood fires. If possible prune early in the day with sterilised tools (metho) and let the sun and breeze dry the cuts.
  • Chook love. Eggs are more precious than ever. And thistles and grasses are popping up, tender and juicy. Let the chooks do the conversion – give them access to the greens ­čÖé If you don’t have chooks, salad or stir-fry your weeds.
  • Bushfire recovery. Fire-ravaged communities now face the double whammy of a pandemic on top of bushfire damage. Let’s help revegetate as soon as the landscapes are ready! Follow Trees for Life to help out with bushcare and planting, and SA Bushfire Garden Revival to grow and donate garden plants to those who have lost their gardens.
  • What to sow in March? Start these in punnets or trays: beetroot (soak first), broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chives, chicory, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, mustard, onions, pak choi, silverbeet, spring onions, swede, turnip.
  • Sow these direct in garden beds: beans & peas (soak first), carrot, coriander, daikon & other radishes, dill, fennel, garlic cloves (pointy end up, in thumb-sized hole), parsnip, rocket.

EXTENDED FAMILY & COMMUNITY

  • Meals on Standby. A couple of extra meals and a big batch of fresh chicken stock have gone into the freezer to be ready if we or anyone close to us gets sick and needs to rest and isolate. It’s easy enough to put aside a spare serve or two from many dinners to add to the reserve.
  • Careful visits & check-in calls. We don’t want to be completely isolated, nor do our older family members with chronic health issues. Rather than visit in each other’s homes, we’re using phone, email and text to check on each other and organise occasional shopping for each other, and meeting outdoors now and then for a walk in the sun and the breeze. Obviously this would be much harder if mobility becomes further reduced.
  • Neighbourhood contact list + outreach. We’re a couple of weeks into coordinating with a group of five nearby households in addition to our relatives. We used a shared Google spreadsheet to share our contact details, health basics and some info on our resources with each other. So if/when any household is impacted by sickness, the rest of us can rally to assist. It has become a useful hub for sharing reliable information and supporting each other in decision making, and most of all, we don’t feel alone.
  • School. They’re not closed yet, and there seem to be strong reasons both for and against closing. We’re keeping in touch with our school, working towards an online learning situation, and offering information that might be useful to the school community.
  • Trees x 10. Watch this space for planting workshops as soon as it’s safe to resume. I’m busy raising trees in the meantime.

HEAD and HEART

  • Routine and Ritual. I’m trying to keep each day somewhat structured, with each of us reconnecting regularly throughout the day and having the little, regular things to look forward to – like a shared pot of tea in the morning, or a walk around the neighbourhood after a meal – or bedtime cuddles and debriefing about the day and any worries. I don’t think we ever outgrow the soothing, comforting value of the familiar.
  • Gratitude. It makes everything else better. It’s always available.
  • Plans and Preparations. Regularly updated, individual and shared. Blackboard, whiteboard, dinner chat, calendars, lists, you name it. The shopping list is now the ‘shop or swap’ list. We can’t respond effectively without being organised. Even if we have to change plans tomorrow, at least today’s plan gives us something to come back to after each distracting update.
  • Mindful Breath. When I’m sleepless, or suddenly tense after reading a news report, or walking and wondering why my back isn’t quite right, the one thing I can always do is focus on my next breath. And then the next. And be grateful for it.

RECOMMENDED READING/ LISTENING

 

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