Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What's all been happening

Just figured out the main and grain crop terrace below the tennis court is 189 square metres of growing space. At 9 potatoes per square metre that's over 1500 potatoes planted! Scary! We have a rectangular chicken tractor (bottomless movable chook pen) coming that measures 1.8 metres across so will organise the paths on the terrace to let us use the tractor back and forward to remove weed and fertilise the ground before we plant it out. Bring on the mighty power of chicken.

We had our first frost on June 14th - the ground was white and crisp.

Also, after a little rain, a new spring started bubbling up out of the ground a ways up the hill in the north-eastern corner. May be scope for little annual pond we reckon.

I picked up another 550 plants on the landcare order (only 950 left to go!) and a bunch of different allocasuarinas (media x 50, paludosa x 40, littoralis x 10). The plants as part of the order were: 50 Acacia dealbata, 50 Acacia melynoxylon, 50 Acacia verticulata, 100 Lemondra longifolia, 50 Poa, 100 Ghania, 50 tea tree, 50 Dionella and 50 Native Elderberry.

Ian also gave me three Acacia Boormanii or Snowy River Wattle. Gave one to Rick and put one in the top main swale and one in the top orchard swale.

Dafe Griffiths from Geometree came all the way down from the Castlemaine area to look over the property and advice on our tree planting strategy on Thursday June 21, Wonderful guy and great value with many years of tree system planning and planting experience.

On Monday June 25 we deep ripped, thanks to Di who pushed it through in the nick of time (with the rain, three days later would have been too late). A downright lovely local contractor named Jacko came by with a yeomans plough. For the technically minded, we went about 25 cm deep with five tines using a 120 horsepower John Deer tractor and a Yeoman's plough with coulters but no rollers. We stayed pretty close to contour but in some places went slightly off contour from valleys to ridges ah la Yeoman's keyline design system. In some places even after about 50mm of rain over the last month or so the soil was bone dry even 10cm down but generally the moisture was reasonably good.

Tuesday June 26 I planted an Acacia cognata or river wattle next to our three main ponds (goose pond, Cam's pond and the pond feeding the dam). The last week or so we've also filled in a few gaps in the Casuarina-based windbreak plantings on the Southern and Western boundary in the house corner. I also got a bunch more native legume shrubs for the mounds (pultanea and something else) and one or two of about 5 different kinds of wattles to chuck in the top mound and see how they go. A lovely bloke named Trev also swung by with two huge bales of rye straw. He noticed the tagasaste and was really interested, saying he grew it for cow and sheep fodder and thought it was fantastic.

Jacko going to it.

What a plough. About $10,000 worth apparently.

Here's a close up of water collecting in one of the rips two days after they went in.

Here's a section of the middle main swale this morning after maybe 7 hours of steady medium rain.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Planting up a storm

On Saturday Di and I planted more natives down in the North-Eastern corner and where the creek comes in from the east. I planted lomandra longifolia and ghania sieberiana along the fence line and Di planted teatree (Melaluca squarrosa and Melaluca ericifolia) along the creek. Di put a few tiny honey locust seedlings in the west end of big swales one and two. I also transplanted nasturtiums into the swale mounds on big swales 1 and 2. In the last light of the day, Di and I planted out a Bunya pine in the South-Eastern corner. We planted it ceremoniously into some rich humus we took from the heart of the big old near-dead blackwood we felled a few months ago. From the end of the life of one great tree to the beginning of the life of another.

On Sunday I finished planting out the three main swales in nasturtium and planted out sunroot tubers every metre or so along the base of the bottom swale and also into the batter of the level area we extended out in front of the shed along with a bit of the similar area on the dam wall. Sunroots inhibit the growth of other plants but will be about 1.5 metres and down hill from productive trees and do a good job of shading the mounds in summer as well as providing more chop and drop style mulch. I also placed a stake with a knife-cut at the height of the closest-to-the-house tagasaste on the top paddock swale. It's growing fast and now we can measure how fast.

I also planted a single kowhai, a NZ legume tree in the middle of the top swale. We got the seed from Steve La Valley's botanical ark and just the one has germinated. I hope it does alright. I dotted a few albizias that Stacey gave us around the piped crossings on the bottom two swales and a variety of subtropical legumes here and there along the top swale. I put a passionfruit in the small broadbean bed to the west of the tennis court and mulched the bed with rice husks. There are bare patches here and there, especially on the sun-facing side, in the covercrops. Next time they predict a decent stretch of wet I'll scatter more. Bit by bit we'll cover them up so come Spring they rise up like one long green snake.

Nettles and chickweed are colonising soil where it was disturbed by the last lot of cows. Pretty and edible!

Here's the flow the South Eastern spring is currently contributing to the top main swale. It's a small flow but is very persistant and will increase dramatically as the soil is recharged with Winter rain.

Here's a pipe's-eye perspective of the water sheeting out along the swale.

Here are the two smaller house orchard swales and to the right the diversion drain bringing road runoff sideways into the main system. We've already started planting out bare-rooted fruit trees into these mounds - so far a plumcot, a nashi, a nectarine and an apricot.

Bill and Di planting natives down on the Eastern boundary last week.

Carey cleaning out the tank above the house. Over a foot of gunk with a good-sized little tree growing in there too!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

More trees planted

Today whilst Carey cleaned out and filled up the long-unused 18,000 litre tank above the house (For the record: main tank = 42,000 litres and the tank below the shed = 24,000 litres), Bill, Di and Dan planted natives down inside the Eastern boundary on both sides of the creek. We planted two kinds of melaleucas, blackwoods, silver wattles, prickly moses, varnish wattle, native currant, and grasses lomandra longifolia and ghania siberium (or something like that ) around a skeleton of casuarina cunninghamiana and casuarina stricta. The big trees at 3 metre spacings with the understory mixed in underneath. An amazing amount of worms in the soil presently. The slight rain we've had must have brought them up from the depths. Also an amazing amount of variability in soil types even from hole to hole. Concrete-like grey clay to the softest richest red clay loams.

The top swale is looking good. The tagasastes are really shooting up and we now have, from mound base upward, comfrey, daffodils, two kinds of myoporum, nasturtiums, and of course the cover crop of oats and about nine different legumes. Who knows, but maybe all this will be enough to hold the grasses off until the trees are up. We shall see.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What up

Here's a few words penned last Saturday: Last few days have been pretty relaxed actually. On Tuesday night we visited our friends Rick and Naomi Coleman of Southern Cross Permaculture Institute for dinner. Later on Fern Okerby from Apollo Bay visited to see what we've been up to and on Wednesday we showed her around and stewed some apples. She also possibly identified our existing large late-season apple for us: Stewart Seedling. On Thursday we went to a talk by Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, and that was interesting. She reckons we should eat more butter, bone broths, ferments, organ meats and stuff like that. If we do, apparently our children will be more likely to have full round faces and a straight set of healthy teeth. It's been raining and the cover crops are all doing great and the swales are accumulating long puddles of water up to about 10 metres long. Rick tells us we're due for more rain so I look forward to that magical moment when the swales and dam fill and overflow. On Friday I sowed more cover crops (lucerne, red clover and white clover) on the backyard swales, the area below the diversion drain that has the drain spoil spread over it by the bobcat and the new swale coming off the goose pond. Oh yeah, our mate Adam has started a sort of companion blog - check it out at

Oh, by the way, Fern the apple whiz recommended Freyburgh as a mid-season good eating apple from NZ and Devonshire Quarrenden from England 1678 as a good eating apple and sweet green coppin as a good cider apple.

And here's a catch up for today: Yesterday Cam, Carey and I cruised down from Melbourne in the pano (panel van). We picked up a 200-litre barrel for brewing compost tea from Carey's place, a pile of daffodil bulbs and Cam's clear pipe for finding levels from Kim's house, and three bare-rooted fruit trees (plumcot, nectarine (Firebrite) and nashi (Shinsui)) and a bunch of ground covers (prostrate rosemary, myoporum, sea daisy). Hannah from the last Southern Cross PDC and Bill and Di are down too so there's lots of energy here this week. Today Cam and I dug in the diversion drain / spillway on the bottom of the two swales in the north eastern corner while Hannah planted tagasaste into the mounds. We (mainly Bill, Di, Hannah and Cam) sowed a cover crop (red, white & subclover, lucerne, barrel medic, oats) into the top swale in that corner and planted about 80 casuarinas continuing the same windbreak pattern down the eastern boundary. I picked up a ute-load of firewood whilst the paddocks were dry enough to do so. Carey's been masterminding the house water situation and cleaning out the tank above the cubby house, God bless him. Bill and Di planted the three new fruit trees and that was cool. Planting the first food-producing trees into swale mounds.

Okay, over and out,

Cam raking around the goose pond.

The cover crops creeping up to seize the swales.

The first fruit tree goes into the mound of one of the orchard swales!

Glying the little dam below the spring dam with fresh cowshit from next door.

We laid it down then covered it with cardboard to get it fermenting. The idea comes from Mollison's designer's manual.

Can and Dan preserving apples with Rick's cool corer-peeler gismo.

A swale with some rather long puddles during recent rain. Bodes well for levelness, what.

We have a swan and its babies living in our dam!

Collecting the cow poo for glying from the dairy farmer next door. He reckons we can have an unlimited supply if we want it!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

First word from Di!

A brief comment and heartfelt thanks from Di: Actually, words are pretty useless to describe how the the Permaculture Forest looks right now; we've had rain and there are little ponds and waterways glinting through the irridescent lushness that has sprung up so quickly, enticing one to wander and linger in the soft, verdant green that now covers those bared brown hills of that extraordinarily long, hot, dry, bushfire-devastated summer. We have the West Gippsland of old back again to love and enjoy; lets pray it stays, at least for a while.

After a couple of unexpected weeks away for me, while Dan, Cam and Carey worked so hard, late yesterday afternoon, with the rain pelting down and the swales filling, we wandered down to the dam and found a black mother swan and her three tiny babies swimming in the dusk and the rain. The new swales have significant water collecting in them and soaking into the thirsty soil and the seeds on the mounds are germinating, so one can begin to imagine how lovely it will be once the cover crops and trees have started to grow, and the soil to regenerate.

Although all lovely, my favourite ponds are the two on the North slope near the old willow tree, which flow so surely down into what will soon be a native, restored wetland, thanks to the amazing work, planning and inspiration of Dan and Cam, and help from Carey and Paul and Adam, as well as all the wonderful people who came to the permablitz weekend and before and after, too.

A big, undyingly grateful 'thankyou'!.The permablitz evening round the camp fire and chatting with friends, new and old, was what life is all about. It was great to see friends and fellow students from our PDC in December too - Dan and Cam, of course, Paul, Jodi, Michelle, Cat, Belinda and Andrew, Ray and Bruce from the following PDC.

So many things still to do - fix up a wood heater for Dan and anyone else who can make it down for a bit of peace/beauty (and planting - we still have almost 2,000 landcare trees to go as well as terraces, trial fruit and nut trees). What else? Chooks. Plant some veggies, including the terraces with potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes late winter - a good combo for the summer as the chokes may shade the potatoes from the full heat of that north facing slope. Pumpkins will go well there too in the spring as they'll help to shade the earth.

Compost teas are high on the list, deep ripping and finding some system for stopping the couch grass from invading the wonderful swales and home orchard in the spring. If anyone know of a good source of felt/weedmat/newspapers/cardboard/mulch, we'd love to hear!!

One new thought to explore is to seed acacias/tags when we deep rip, thus providing a living mulch/cover/wind and sun protection over the whole property which can eventually be thinned and planted with main fruit and nut trees.