Allowing ourselves to slow down

20 May 2013
Written by Kath Irvine | Images by Kath Irvine
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Inspired by her recent Autumn Festival theme of 'living at baseline', Kath Irvine encourages us to bring ourselves back to a calmer sustainable place 

Big ups to all those intrepid folk who braved the weather and came along to our Autumn festival. The weather didn’t matter did it? What amazing days we had together – I thank you all for your fine company. Congratulations to Rosemary Neilson and Traci Wheeler for winning the best pickle of the show!

Talking with Steve Porteous ( about ‘living at baseline’ was my festival inspiration. Those of you with the privilege of sharing your lives with animals will know how chilled they are - operating about 90% of their lives in a calm, relaxed state of being; only 10% in high adrenaline (flight or fight). Sounds nice don’t it. We, of course, tend to the opposite.

The thing is our bodies aren’t designed for high-stress (ie high-adrenaline) lifestyles. Spinning out saps a lot of energy – so much so that our digestion shuts down, our immunity is compromised and our brain operates differently (no kidding).

How have we let this adrenaline-based lifestyle take us over when it clearly doesn’t work? Having a goal to breeze through life in a calm, self-contained fashion is all very well, but we’re surrounded by highly strung, easily freaked-out individuals all trying to look good, be clever, be here then there then everywhere, achieve, achieve, achieve. It’s adrenaline-fuelled edgy living.

Adrenaline was not intended for first-world problems - the slow driver, the dropped egg, the wet bathmat on the floor.Adrenaline is an important survival response. We need to save it for the slightly more serious, eg: confronting a bear whilst on a walk in the woods, or breaking your leg while on your own high in the Andes.

How to bring yourself back to base line? Simple - some lovely deep breaths, right into the belly. Or a phone call to an understanding friend who will firmly, but gently bring you back. When I’m in a real I-have-lost-the-plot moment there is nothing like an escape to the garden to plant me back on the ground - of course living in the bushes helps a lot. Have you got a bring it back to base-line strategy?

So to the jobs this May (no stress required – perhaps you get them done, perhaps you don’t …)

In the Vege Patch

Many of you have teased me for my love of planning (you know who you are, and my secret hope is to convert you all). A bit of organisation in the food garden goes along way. Right now I’m reaping the rewards of my forward planning – as my summer crops come to a close my autumn crops are beginning to bear. I love the synchronicity!

We have the last of the peppers, jalapenos, eggplants, tomato and zuchinnis coming in plus the new wave of autumn harvests – saladings, celery, broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, carrots, dwarf beans (perfect stringless is an outstanding performer) perpetual spinach and kale.

Thin and weed your root crops before they get too crowded. If you are oh so careful you can transplant your thinnings into any gaps. Please shake some Quash about - I can’t bear the thought of your beautiful winter food getting eaten by a mollusc.

Aerate all your beds this month before you sow greencrops or plant crops, this’ll give your garden an important head start come September.

Prepare your garlic beds. Aerate, add a 5cm layer of home-made compost, a sprinkle of lime and rockdust, and, if you are lucky enough to live near a kelp-providing seashore, a fine layer of seaweed. Water it (or wait for the rain to do it), then mulch it and leave it to consolidate for a few weeks before planting out.

Sow your broadbeans this month. If you don't like eating broadbeans you must sow some anyway – they are magic for dirt: aerating your soil over winter, providing lots of fodder for bees in early spring, grabbing all that nitrogen in the atmosphere and fixing it in your soils as well as providing a huge amount of biomass for your spring compost heaps. They’re a great crop to grow before your tomatoes.

Other green crops to sow now are oats (pictured) to integrate calciums and for loads of biomass, wheat for soil building and biomass, lupin for biomass and nitrogen fixation, mustard for biomass, soil cleanse and beneficial insects.

For those of you with cloches or other winter cover – get another lot of saladings underway. Include rocket, coriander, kale, endive, puha - lots of peppery and zingy leaves to keep your pecker up over winter. We’ve been really enjoying Anna's mesclun mix this autumn – the perfect combo of sweet and tang. See to order yours.

Companion flowers to sow now for spring flowering are poppies, anchusa, snap dragons, orage, calendula and heartsease. As important as the food crops, people.

Make some time to potter round your garden with a watering can full of liquid feed. It’ll give everyone a booster before the soils slow down.

Wishing you all a peaceful May.
Yours in the earth,


In the Orchard
In the Kitchen


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