Monday, May 28, 2007

Earthworks are over!

Right, here's what went down the last few days.

On Saturday Cam and I fixed the new fence on the Eastern boundary. The tension of the wire was pulling about six star pickets out of the ground so we banged in another star picket below each one sideway and wired the existing one onto that. We also made a start on finishing by hand the two small swales in the orchard. I think we've done eight swales in total now. Probably about enough I reckon.

Sunday we finished off the top swale and Cam thinned out the elms above the diversion drain while I marked all the power and telephone cables with coloured bricks for future identification purposes. We also decided to use the newly finished orchard swales as our winter garden bed so I planted out some broccoli using a newspaper sheet mulch to keep the kikuyu roots at bay. I also ordered a shitload more cover crop seeds along with some winter veggies. As the cover crops come up on the mounds we'll just sow more seed into any gaps.

Today the tracked bobcat came and cleaned up the diversion drain, leveled the terrace, and fixed up the driveway (leveled some rough sections and put in a woo-up to divert water sideways). It just left and all the earthworks are now done, finished, even paid for. Fantastic! It looks like it is just about to rain hard too which is a bonus - hopefully in time before the cover crops kark it - we've had a few hot days running now. Jay gave me a go in the bob cat and that was a bit of fun. It feels like being in a moon explorer or something.

Tomorrow morning I've arranged with the dairy farmer to our north, east, and west to pick up a uteload or two of fresh cow poo. We're gonna try glying, or using a layer of fermenting organic matter to seal the second little water catchment below the south eastern spring.

Here are the orhcard swales after they were dug by Jay in the 12-tonner and before Cam and I finished them off by hand. They actually look quite beautiful now.

Here's Jay tidying up the diversion drain.

Here's Jay tidying up the goose pond.

Here's Jay leveling the terrace - now it varies by less than 2cm and slopes very slightly toward the north for drainage. Within the week we hope to once-off rotary hoe it, sow seed potatoes, and mulch it.

Here's Cam working Jay to put a water-diverting woo-up in the driveway.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another report from the ground


Time for another update here. On Monday Jay managed to fix the machine and I worked with him to finish up. Before I arrived he filled in and rammed earth over the pipe through the goose pond wall. I had him ram it more, especially on the inside edge, when I arrived. Hopefully it won't leak. The 50mm poly pipe had two wetrings or baffles to prevent water seeping along the pipe over time and ultimately undermining the pond wall. We then put a spillway trench incorporating a short stretch of swale coming off the goose pond. We then went and built a little dam at the eastern end of the top swale. Dug down to what was very heavy blue and yellow-tan clay - maybe 100% clay even. Then dug a keyhole, then added and rammed in hard enough layers to bring the wall up to the height we needed to get water into the top swale. It looks great and is already full. I later put in the pipe and gate valve that lets us channel water directly into the top swale. Another bit of the vision is realised!

Jay then put in a smaller pond further down where we can get water into the second swale, and then we went and scratched two lines in the orchard which we'll finish by hand into small swales for small fruit tree plantings. Yesterday Alan and Jay came to take the excavator away. I thanked Jay for his fine work and he said he'd enjoyed the job and was interested in coming back to see the system in future. I also gave him some dates and a contact number for a few of the short permaculture courses we have coming up around the place. Told him I could get him a good price.

It was a great feeling to see the excavator go. It's done wonderful things for us but it is a big heavy hunk of metal and it does tear open the earth every time it moves. We're keen to get onto re-greening all the disturbed earth (there's rather a lot of it!) and fast-forwarding past this momentary blip in the evolution of this system. It's nice to realise. however, that even now, at the moment of most disruption, the whole place looks just gorgeous. And the cover crops are all germinating beautifully on the swale mounds. I should start taking daily photos and in a week or two the will be all green.

We were thinking of getting a grader for the terrace and access tracks, but I'm now thinking we might get a tracked bobcat in to tidy things up and level the terrace. We can perhaps leave the access track till next spring, as it is already getting a bit wet and slippery. The last week we've had a fair bit of rain. Nice to see puddles forming in the swales. Interesting too to see what they mean about the red soil being free draining and the grey holding water. It's very true!

Today I finished planting out tagasastes in the swale coming off the dam and raked and planted (broad beans and tags) in the short length of swale coming off the goose pond. It was a little demoralising to see green roselas and galas moving along the swales picking off all the oats, but they seem to be leaving the other stuff (about nine kinds of legumes) alone so I guess that's fair enough. But in retrospect would have been good to spread some rice husks or similar on top of the seed to confuse the birds. You can buy a huge bale for $37 at Leongatha rural.

Here's the key little dam at the top of our swale system.

Here you can see the gate valve that releases the spring-fed mini-dam into the top swale.

Here's a close up of the mound mix sprouting. In a week or two you won't be able to see no dirt no more.

Here's the top swale with the tagasastes spaced every four metres.

Here's a shot from the South Eastern corner looking down over the various water storages we've created and also the main dam which was already here but now has a few hundred metres of swale feeding it. Come the first big rain and we predict it will fill up and overflow, eventually indefinitely.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Latest

Well, time for a catch up as we've been at it every day and a bit has been happening. We're nearly finished with the 12-ton excavator which has broken a bit of hydraulic pipe and once Jay manages to fix it we'll fill and ram in earth around the baffled pipe through the goose pond wall, put in a short swale and spillway off the goose pond, maybe make a start on the small swales in the house orchard (to be finished by hand) and that will be about us. We're planning to get a grader for the access track and to get the main crop terrace level. Then maybe a bulldozer for the wetlands - we'll see what happens.

But all the main swales are finished! They look just beautiful. Curving across the landscape like level snakes. We've also put a crossing pipe for access over each one, raked them smooth and removed all the remaining grass chunks, then sowed them with a cover crop including oats, fenugreek, barrel medic, wooly pod vetch, lucerne, red clover, white clover, sub clover, purslane, rape seed, rye corn, yarrow and BQ mulch (a brassica mix from Green Harvest). Yesterday Carey, Cam and I started scattering seed on the three swales on the north-facing slope. We took one swale each and none of us made it much further than half way with our allocated seed, which was already about four times too much seed for the whole swale! The problem was that all that you could really see going out was the oats so for those first halves we have probably about 8 or 10 times too much seed. Bring it on! Overseeding Mother Nature style. So over the next few weeks we expect to see the swales be seized by our cover crops - accumulating biomass, fixing carbon and nitrogen, and keeping the grass away. Given there were showers predicted for the next five days we cancelled the hydromulch and saved maybe $2000 which was a bonus.

Jessie has spent the morning planting out tagasastes on the mounds at four metre spacings and they look great. It's an excellent feeling to have the seed and trees in. It's as if step one is over. The swales are cut, shaped and planted. Still heaps to do but even if nothing more happened the swales will be doing their thing, fast-tracking soil growth and forest re-establishment.

Young Jay getting into the swale-making flow.

That's one buff lookin' swale.

The batter - what earthmovers call the angle put on any vertical cuuts so they don't collapse over time.

One of the three crossing pipes.

Cam putting a finishing touch on the swale and spillway that hooks into the east side of the dam.

The pipe going through the goose pond wall.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Game on. Forest begins.

Well a huge few days here at the permaculture forest. Absolutely huge. On Thursday we finished off the terrace area below the tennis court which now needs just a final leveling and loosening before we plant out the first crop of potatoes. On Friday the first swale went in. It was a bit nerve racking, but the technique we used worked really well and it lets you get both the swale base and the crucial point where the ditch meets the mound dead level. The way it works is that a tracked excavator with a tilt bucket digs the swale from the side with the ditch ending up the width of the bucket (1.4 metres in our case). Young Jay the driver actually outperformed his more experienced boss mainly because he was just more attentive and keen to get it perfect. Tomorrow he comes back and we'll put in the next two swales. Apart from a short dip of about 7 cm due the aforementioned boss being a bit overeager, the base of the first one varies by about 3 cm. Not bad at all!

Yesterday (Saturday) and today we had a crowd of helpers up for a permablitz and planted about 700 trees on the western and southern boundaries. Di just got a landcare grant supplying 2500 trees which is awesome - pretty much enough to plant out the entire boundary and zone 5 area. This weekend we planted casuarina stricta (about 100), casuarina cunninghamiana (about 100 - tall & moisture tolerant), eucalyptus strezleckii (50 - tall), acacia melonoxylon (50 - tall), acacia dealbata (50 - medium), acacia stricta (50 - low), pomidennis aspuca (50 - medium), oleria argophylla (50 - medium), goodenia ovata (50 - low & moisture tolerant), coprosma ovata (50 - low & moisture tolerant), bursaria spinosa (50 - low, dry tolerant), and gahnia seibuiuei (50 - low). Whew! We'll get a photo of a sketch of the planting spacing and placing we used. Basically lower plants give the wind the initial lift which then is lifted further by the casuarina stricta followed by the cunninghamian, the blackwoods, and in wet spots the eucalypts. The big trees were all spaced 3 metres apart and placed so that the will grow into a fairly enven wind break. All we have to do know is keep them wet and make sure rabbits and the grass doesn't do them in!

In goes swale numero uno!

What a beauty!

Chucking a trench in through the dam wall for one of the swales we're doing tomorrow.

Part of the permablitz crew raking, degrassing and planting comfrey root cuttings into both sides of the swale mound.

And this is Cam's pond which he directed the driver to put in pretty much on the fly. It's already full and is a great example of the use of levels and spillways. Very beautiful and an option for pumping from in future.

The tree planters taking some well-earned lunch.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Off, like a rocket!

So today the earthworks began! Alan and driver Jay rocked up at 9:30 with a 20-ton excavator and we spent the day on the top diversion drain, the silt trap for the goose pond, the goose pond itself, breaking up the old concrete slabs both above and below, and putting in the first terrace below the tennis court. It's looking good - and tomorrow it seems we'll have both machines going strong. Heck, at this rate we'll be finished in a few days! We are also thinking of getting in a bobcat for a half-day to clean up - give it all a really nice finish.

The machine arrives.

The diversion drain goes in.

The goose pond goes in.

What a reach! Moving some rumble we found from the terrace area to enlarge the flat area in from of the shed.

Here's a photo from the same spot as yesterday at around the same time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Earthworks delayed again!

But funny how things work out for the best. Alan of Gippsland Excavations is working with us and genuinely sorry that the 12-ton excavator has been delayed. The upshot is that tomorrow he'll send a 20-tonner which will arrive by 8am. With that we'll get to work on the access road, top diversion drain, goose pond, breaking up the old concrete, the terraces, the crossing pipe wetland, and the pond below the willow, along with a few other bits and pieces. Then the 12-tonner will arrive Thursday to cut the swales. So we'll probably have two machines on the go at once, and great to be able to use each for the job it's most suited to.

Meanwhile, today we started the first small swale in the orchard behind the house (Cam, Jessie, Adam and me).

And here's a few more photos taken just this evening around 4pm with long shadows across the slope. Tomorrow from 8am, this will begin to change.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Quiet Before the Storm

Today Cam, Jess and I are just taking a breath prior to the party which begins tomorrow. Yesterday Cam and Bill finished replacing the northen fence and Jess and I marked out the dam swale and several small swales in the orchard area to the South/South East of the house.

A tree feller/fella came today and took down a dead eucalypt near the shed and we chopped up a blackwood that was leaning on another tree near the spring. Another bloke arrived with six 2.4 metre long 225mm wide crossing pipes to get the access road across the swales. Cam and I just had a think about the location of the diversion drain above the house taking water from Hydes road to the goose pond. The slope will be about 50:1 but we think that will be fine. It will be a shallow wide trench. Later today we'll haul a ute load or two more firewood to the storage pile we set up in the to-be chook area (automatic termite and white ant control) and remove the fence below the tennis court so the excavator driver can get to work on the terraces. As soon as Di gets here with her Jimmy-bar.

We heard from the nursery guy the other day that Di has been awarded a landcare grant which gives us 2000 trees to plant out our boundaries. If we can get them by this weekend we can plant them out on our working bee, perhaps. What else? Well, our first hot compost pile is kicking along well and today was about turn four. So in a few weeks we'll have some good compost and can start brewing compost tea!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Warming up for earthworks

Today Cam (the birthday boy - 28 today!) and I marked out the top swale with a lazer level. We put a stake every ten metres or so and a small pile of ground limestone every metre or two at the point where the downside of the swale ditch will meet the uncompacted mound. We were pleased to figure out a way of getting it above a large eucalypt near the house fence. What we'll do is make a concrete pond where the spring flow comes underneath the blackwoods. We also picked up a ute load of fire wood from the dead blackwood we chainsawed up yesterday. Bill bought a mid-sized stihl and it's a ripper. Oh yeah, went up the road to ask Warren and BIll to move the 150 calves off today so we can remove the fence below the tennis court, and old Bill the farmer said that what we were doing made a lot of sense and that if it worked he was going to do the same thing (integrated swales and dams etc) on his farm. After that we shot down to Koorooman nursery and picked up another 100 of both Casuarina cunninghamiana and stricta along with a few promising mulch plants called blanke leaf and strawsonia or something like that. Right, off to mark out another swale!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Some more Before Photos

These were all taken on the 14th of May 2006 when Permaculture Soltions visited the site for a pre-purchase property assessment. It was a bit overcast but it will be good to compare these with photos from the same spot taken in a week or so!

The block is roughly a rectangle about 200 by 273 meters oriented north-south with a valley and stream running through from east to west. This is from the North Eastern corner looking South.

This is from the North Eastern corner looking South West.

This is from the North Eastern corner looking W.

This is from the North Western corner looking East.

This is from the North Western corner looking South.