November marks one year since we began our relationship with this patch of soil, grass and rusty car parts. If the permaculture imperative is to obtain a yield, then the yields of this first year have been largely intangible, but no less real. It has been a year of observing and learning about the land, ourselves and what we can do here. I remember emotions I was feeling about this project a year ago, and I think my terror has been mostly balanced by a sense of calm. Where 12 months ago I was overwhelmed by the scale of our ignorance, now, our ignorance is still largely intact, but I’m more confident in our collective abilities as a family, nested within a community, to unravel the challenges we face.Where 12 months ago we tried to think about everything all at once and were impatient to witness transformation, now our ideas and enthusiasm to implement them are beginning to more closely reflect the pace of the landscape itself. We’ve tried working at the same pace through all seasons, and have learnt that sometimes, it’s better to just stay inside. Through countless scribbled property plans, we’ve started moving from thinking about the big, guiding patterns for the property to the detail of discrete components. We’ve gone from imagining instant orchards, market gardens and roaming flocks of chickens, to preparing ourselves for sheep and forests. While the detail has necessarily changed, the pattern itself keeps open a diversity of future possibilities.
I haven’t learned so much or had so many ideas challenged in a long time. It’s a good feeling, moderated by copious amounts of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets of rainfall, of bird sightings, of bee-keeping tasks, of weed control, of indigenous plant flowering and seed-set times. Or put another way, it’s been a year of recording and representing our learning as a way of breaking down what we want to do into achievable tasks.
We were always intent on ensuring our first year was defined by the principle of long and thoughtful observation, and for the most part we’ve managed to restrain ourselves from doing too much reshaping of the landscape. For the sake of lists, here’s some things that we’ve done this year that we think were important:
• Met with local permaculturalists and small farmers to find out what’s worked for them
• Regularly tested the water quality of the dam and calculated its volume
• Measured contours throughout the property
• Conducted our own soil tests
• Conducted erosion control experiments, mostly successfully
• Conducted weed control experiments, mostly successfully
• Tried to make do with what we had, then made, borrowed or bought the tools we needed
• Drew up many, many, many different plans
• Been unable to sleep because of too many thoughts about woodlot species
• Kept a journal of what we’ve learnt, seen, thought, experienced, done
• Hired a small farm advisor to help us think through our property planning
• Sought advice from our local Natural Resources officer and negotiated a work plan to protect and restore vulnerable areas and establish sustainable grazing practices
• Attended courses and field days on fencing, revegetation, bee-keeping and sheep management and started courses in artisanal cheese-making
• Developed a draft business plan
• Developed a draft Calendar of Operations to draw together all of the climatic, ecological, cultural and agricultural events that we’d observed or researched and to allow us to predict and plan the busiest or most restful periods
• Gathered and propagated seed from local indigenous plants
• Planted 400 plants, and managed to protect about a quarter from deer and kangaroos
• Started clearing some of the accumulated rubbish from the creeks
• Started fencing the most severely eroded areas
• Constructed a shelter for honeybees and introduced the first hive
• Instituted a half-day-working-half-day-snorkelling policy during summer
• Seen and heard birds we didn’t know existed
• Been bogged in the opening rains
• Kept lists of jobs to do and things to find out
• Listened to frog choruses, been shocked by the boldness of foxes, marvelled at quails
• Read, talked, and occasionally, just sat and watched the light move across the hills
We say “we”, but really, we mean you. This particular adventure has been carried by the enthusiasm and support of our community of friends, family and neighbours, and we cannot express how deeply we appreciate this. We thank you for being part of this story and hope to share it with you wherever it goes next. Next year, we should do more hikes.
fantastic guys, what an interesting year. I am looking forward to the future 🙂
Hey Lucy, thanks for your comments, looking forward to having you down here some time!