Fleurieu history: Imagining landscape change

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In March 2020, Joel was invited to present to the Yankalilla & District Historical Society on our research into how the landscape of the Fleurieu has changed over the last few centuries. Below is an edited version of the talk. If you’re interested in knowing more, we can also send you some links to interesting historical images from the colonial period. Any errors are our own – let us know if you have any questions or comments.

In 2012, my wife Sophie and I, with our children Asher and Annika purchased Yarnauwi, just outside of Second Valley. Our property is just under 50 acres, running between South Road and the Wirrina golf course, and over the last seven years with the generous support of our friends, neighbours and family we’ve worked to regenerate this patch of the landscape.

Our property is intended to remain at least partly agricultural. We’re not seeking to return it to a prior state of imagined ecological perfection. As we’ve discovered through our research and through our experience of working with the land over the last seven years, too much has changed and is still changing to return what was there before colonisation.

Instead, we’re working to restore its health and function as a landscape, and to build its resilience in a changing climate. I’m neither an historian or a scientist, however we have spent a lot of time contemplating both history and science, and tonight I wanted to share with you some of what my wife Sophie and I have discovered in our process of working to regenerate Yarnauwi. Continue reading

Bird prints and other new merchandise available

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We are pleased to announce that a new range of works inspired by Yarnauwi are now available from our Etsy shop.

Joel’s new lino print, “Common Birds of the Fleurieu Peninsula”, celebrates the diversity and beauty of species regularly seen around the Fleurieu and South Australia. Each bird is hand-carved and hand-printed. The 24 birds depicted are the Black-shouldered Kite, Stubble Quail, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Australasian Pipit, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel, Welcome Swallow, Little Raven, White-fronted Chat, Magpie-lark, Masked Lapwing, White-faced Heron, White-winged Triller, Australian Magpie, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Australian Wood Duck, Grey Teal, Common Bronzewing, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Little Corella, Crimson Rosella, Pacific Black Duck, Galah, and Red-rumped Parrot.

Sophie’s new embroidery work “Welcome Swallow family” captures the joy and vibrancy of the swallow family which has taken up residence in the open bay of the Yarnauwi shed. They arrived in late winter, raised babies in mud nests, then took their babies for test flights around the shed before they fledged and left over the hotter months. By Autumn they were all back and even more full of joie de vivre. This work is hand embroidered on cotton fabric and includes a wooden hoop frame.

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Sophie’s other “Galah” embroidery celebrates the Eulophus roseicapillus which is such a fun and ever-present bird in Australian country areas. The flocks that visit Yarnauwi love to wander around our weediest paddock eating thistle seeds. Their vivid pinks and silver greys really lift the landscape at dry and dusty times of year. This piece is hand embroidered on cotton fabric and comes with a bamboo frame ready to hang.

Finally, Joel has made a range of new leather adventure pouches, for adults and children alike! There are three different designs all made from our Damara sheepskins, which were raised, grazed and tanned on the Fleurieu, and completed with recycled leather trim and buckles. They are ready to attach to a belt and are the perfect size for children to pack pocket knives, binoculars, notebook and pencil, a small drink bottle, snack, or whatever else they might need for explorations in the wild!

We had a lot of fun making these products. For more information, pricing, or purchasing, please visit https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/YarnauwiFarm

Yarnauwi (Virtual) Farm Tour 2020

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There’s been so much growth and change at the farm over the last year that we really wanted to share with our team of volunteers and supporters. However, with everyone staying in their postcode this holiday weekend and farm tours suspended for the foreseeable future, we thought we’d put together a little video so you can still enjoy the big skies of the Fleurieu! Take care, and we hope to see you back under the trees soon!

Tiny communities

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New growth on a red gum sapling.

We’ve been talking a bit recently about when a woodland becomes a woodland. Asher suggested 500 years of growth, but was willing to settle for 50. Perhaps it’s a woodland when the birds think so, when the firetails and blue wrens jump the boundary fence from neigbouring scrub and decide they’re safe flitting from branch to branch. As our earliest plantings grow taller than humans, and the canopies thicken and throw shade, we started noticing an increasing diversity of tiny life. Insects for whom a gum or wattle tree is their universe are finding their way across the paddocks to settle in the emerging plantings. Despite the heat and dry of summer, the trees are heaving with insect life. We recently saw the documentary The Biggest Little Farm about an idealistic (and evidently well-funded!) couple who start a diverse 200 acre farming project outside of Los Angeles. One of the messages of the film is that when you create the right conditions, nature finds a balance. As we walked through the saplings, on one, the new growth and leaves were being systematically devoured by small copper coloured beetles. We walked to the next tree, the copper beetles were present, but as we watched, were body slammed by wasps and carried away. At the next, the beetles had been busy, but now a spider had arrived, and was meticulously wrapping the beetle population in silk. Perhaps these tiny communities are beginning to find the balance too.

Here’s a tour of some of the life on the trees – we’d love your help with identification!

Beetle eats leaf.

Spider eats beetle.

Ants farm aphids on an Acacia.

A huntsman and egg sac.

Leafhopper, with comrades.

Two-spotted cup moth caterpillar.

Case moth cocoon, constructed from silk and twigs.

Ants on twisty leaves. What’s going on?!

Wasp galls on a golden wattle.

Year of Fire: Annual Report 2020

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A melted tree guard shrink wraps a seedling after a fire move through part of the property in January 2019.

2019 began and ended in fire. In early January, some errant fireworks set off by passers-by landed in one of our front paddocks, burning across a couple of hectares of our property. We were lucky. There was little wind, and it was quickly noticed and contained by our amazing neighbours and the CFS. Meanwhile, in Tasmania, fires ripped through the forests, and by spring and early summer, vast tracts of the east coast and Kangaroo Island were catastrophically aflame once again. While we’ve escaped the drought and bushfires that have gripped so much of the continent, these phenomena have served to focus our goals and aspirations in 2019. It’s been a year of learning as we work towards a more regenerative approach: ultimately building soil and harvesting water and carbon in the landscape.

2019 had the dubious distinction of being Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. It got pretty warm in the shed.

Learning
Our regenerative aspirations have been focused by some outstanding events this year. In June, we attended the Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering in Willunga, drawing together 150 aspiring and established regenerative farmers from around Australia to share skills and ideas. Former CSIRO microbiologist and climate scientist Walter Jehne set the tone with a rousing and inspirational keynote on restoring natural processes through agriculture to cool the climate.

The Food Forest’s Annemarie Brookman with Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis at Deep Winter, Willunga.

Continue reading

Winter work: erosion control in dispersive soils

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Some of the challenges of our landscape regeneration efforts have been both working to restore eroded badlands in some parts of the property, as well as to arrest continuing erosion. To make matters more complex, some sections of the property have “dispersive” subsoil. While the topsoil is relatively stable, when the subsoil becomes saturated it dissolves and begins to move, hollowing out tunnels beneath the surface that ultimately collapse into sinkholes, and eventually gullies. Of course, because it’s all happening underground, tracking or predicting which areas are vulnerable, or already cavernous is tricky.

Over the last seven years, we’ve been gradually working our way around the property installing erosion control structures, based on the work of permaculture-based landscape restoration folk like Craig Sponholtz and Bill Zeedyk. Hailing from the dry southwest of North America, Sponholtz and Zeedyk advocate applying small and slow interventions that use local materials to slow water flows and gradually heal erosion. In the permaculture spirit of viewing problems as solutions, our junk-filled erosion gullies have provided a seemingly inexhaustible supply of demolition rubble, concrete chunks and segments of brick walls that are ideal material for these structures.

This headcut just keeps moving, despite the perennial grasses and good ground cover.

One of the sections that we’ve avoided is a notorious headcut that our DIY soil tests showed us boasted slaking soil that disintegrates when moist and subsoil that was also more saline than other locations around the farm. With saline subsoil, most plants wanted to avoid getting their stabilising roots down. Tree-planting was also fraught, survival rates in the saline subsoil and cracking grey topsoil were low and  the very process of digging a small hole for a seedling can be enough to expose the subsoil so that next time there was a downpour, a sinkhole would open and swallow the seedling, tree guard and all. With the headcut moving about a metre a year and also widening, we thought it was time to get stuck in. At the very least, we’ve discovered that doing something is better than doing nothing and the act of getting in there and digging around allows for more accurate monitoring and effective intervention. Continue reading

Deep Winter comes to the Fleurieu!

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Joel dusted off his design degree to contribute a logo to the gathering.

Each winter since 2015, aspiring and established small-scale and regenerative farmers and their supporters and allies have gathered somewhere in Australia as part of the Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering to share ideas and inspiration for their projects and enterprises. In June 2019, this convergence drifted westwards to be held in Willunga, South Australia, and we were delighted to participate.

150 aspiring and established regenerative farmers, growers and their friends gathered in Willunga, SA, for the Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering.

The tone for the convergence was set with a keynote from former CSIRO microbiologist and climate scientist Walter Jehne, who spoke on the role and responsibility of rebuilding soil carbon and water cycles through agriculture and land management. Through his inspiring presentation, Jehne drew on indigenous land management as described in the work of Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe to also establish a precedent for the capacity of Australian soils to hold significant amounts of carbon and water.

Walter Jehne, in full flight.

Continue reading

Yarnauwi Treefest 2019

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A serial tree-planter manages to synchronise his outfit with the colouring of Eucalyptus occidentalis.

A couple of days before this year’s tree planting, I rang our friend and regular tree-planter Jeremy, and told him that three out of four family members were sick with the flu and we were thinking of cancelling this year’s planting weekend. He didn’t accept that proposal, effectively telling us that tree planting would happen regardless of our involvement, that between his family and another they would take care of catering, rally the volunteers and get the trees in the ground.

It has always been an aspiration of ours that the farm might offer a place for people to be able to develop connection with the landscape through collaboration on land-based projects – “where people and the landscape can restore each other”. I hope that Jeremy’s response, and the support of our friends and community over the last seven years of tree-planting is an indication of this aspiration in development. In this spirit, this year we were also delighted to host regenerative side projects such as Steven Hoepfner’s seed ball regeneration experiment, and provide a waterway for Sue and David Speck’s sedges, and a forever home for Greg Wood’s trees.

Steven’s seed ball project: local provenance bundles of seed and nutrients distributed across revegetation zones to germinate when the conditions are right.

Continue reading

Nightlife in the Country

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A little while ago I received a motion camera, triggered by movement and able to shoot in complete darkness with an infra-red flash. I mounted it on a fence post, scattered some food scraps in front and left it for a week. Over the week it’s offered us a fascinating window into the life of the farm.

Curious kangaroo

Boxing match

The fight gets out of hand

Persistence is rewarded

Very curious kangaroo.

Unsurprisingly, the hordes of kangaroos feature heavily. They graze through the day and night, occasionally box, and one problem-solver has multiple attempts at reaching  the enticing leaves of a mesh-guarded sapling. Continue reading

Saltbush city limitless

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At this time of year when it hasn’t rained properly for about 6 months and even the hardiest of our native trees and shrubs start to wilt, we say thank heavens for saltbush. This family of plants are the Australian climate change gardeners’ morale booster – the hotter and drier it gets the more they seem to leaf out, attract beneficial insects, tower in size over anything else and improve the conditions for other species.

The first species we have had success with, Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia), grows in inland areas of Australia. Its seeds were traditionally used as a food source for Aboriginal people, and the leaves are also edible and rich in protein, antioxidants, and minerals. It’s commonly used as a livestock grazing plant, which was one of the reasons we planted it, as a high-protein green fodder source at times of the year like this when there is not much else for stock to eat.

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Old Man Saltbush is extremely drought and salt tolerant and apparently lives for more than 100 years! It accumulates salt in its leaves as it extracts water from the soil so can help to reduce salinity. It is very deep rooted and can access moisture and nutrients out of reach of other plants, making those nutrients available to other surface plants via grazing. Its roots travel up to 5m deep and 10m wide to access nutrients and moisture, as well as having surface roots to collect light rain and bind soil. It also sequesters carbon in the soil.

It is fast growing so can provide shelter within a few years to other plants or stock, and works well grown as a hedge/windbreak. I am keen to grow it as a hedge border around a vegetable garden in future as it attracts beneficial insects as well as blocking wind. It seems to grow fine on our heavy clays, though I note it prefers the dryer ridge to the more low lying winter waterlogged areas. And it has such nice grey-blue shimmery leaves! And kangaroos don’t seem to touch it! So much to love. It really is a hero of the plant world.

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Woody trunk after 3 or 4 years growth

Another species we’ve been very grateful to be acquainted with is Creeping Saltbush (Atriplex semibaccata). We planted it on the disturbed slope next to our shed site as a way of stabilising the soil and avoiding erosion and it has thrived. It forms a dense low mat of up to 1.5m diameter, tolerates high levels of salinity and salt-laden winds, tolerates drought, has an edible berry, reduces soil temperature, and provides habitat for beneficial insects. On some of our hottest and driest summer days, it was green and covered in blue copper butterflies!

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Creeping away

And it now seems to be coming up “by itself” (maybe with the help of ants moving fruit around) in a couple of other spots around our shed, not minding growing in gravel at all. This year we are planning to plant it on our gully walls in the hopes of stabilising those slopes, increasing habitat and creating a living mulch around other trees and shrubs.

 

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Colonising the shed site

Finally, we are always overjoyed to see Ruby Saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa) popping up by itself in various paddocks around the farm with no help from us (via birds or sheep perhaps). Again the small red fruits are edible, again it is ridiculously hardy tolerating drought, salt, and sand.  Sheep love eating it, but unfortunately they leave nothing behind! And the green leaves are such a sight for sore eyes in this driest time of year.

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We feel we have only just started on our journey experimenting with saltbush, and look forward to encouraging this family of perennial plants to be our allies on the path to increasing productivity and biodiversity.