damara, ecology, farm, kangaroos, livestock, photography, planning, revegetation, seasons, sheep, southwestern Fleurieu, summer, trees, waterways
It seems like summer comes sooner and sooner. Winter was short, and so dry that the dam never progressed beyond a puddle, then the sun was back, the grass grew for a moment then was baked dry again by an early heatwave. The northern faces of the hills turned a bleached gold, then quickly the green haze on the south sides followed. And we’re back, heading into the hot season again, settling into a holding pattern of heat and dormancy until the opening rains.
Tolstoy apparently called spring “the time of plans and projects”. Now a year into our sheep project, we’ve begun tweaking our grazing practices in an effort to manage our pasture more effectively. We’ve increased our flock size through both breeding and the acquisition of some hardy, desert-adapted damara sheep, brought in from a dusty paddock outside Nuriootpa to replace the ageing and increasingly delicate Wiltshire Horn matriarchs. The existing flock hasn’t exactly embraced the new arrivals, there’s plenty of bleating and foot-stomping. You could cut the tension with a knife when we pour out the sheep nuts. Among the damaras is Manchego, our new ram. Looking at Pecorino’s legacy, it’s clear he has big hooves to fill.
Despite our glumness at the onset of the hot north winds and a horizon browned with the smoke of bushfires, everywhere we find signs of hope. All seedlings that have survived a summer without supplementary watering seem to be thriving, still putting on new growth with whatever soil moisture they can access. Our experimental blackwood plantings (Acacia melanoxylon) are thriving, almost emerging from their mesh guards after a year in the ground. The roos have dispersed into family groups after gathering en masse through the cooler seasons, so the seedlings might just have a chance to put on some growth without being mown down by quite so many marsupial mouths. Mulched by the dregs of our alpaca wool, even the bunya-bunya pines are defying all expectations and putting on new growth in the baked clay of the front paddock. The way things are going, we’re on track to have shade by 2020!
In the six-season calendar of the Kaurna traditional owners of the Adelaide Plains and Fleurieu Peninsula, our spring is somewhere between Wulluti, spring, and Woltatti, the hot season, and subsequent Bokarra, a season defined by hot northerly winds. Unlike our more rigid calendar and its expectations that certain seasons commence with certain months, the Kaurna calendar is dynamic, dependent on the observance of a critical mass of certain ecological and climatic phenomena before clocking over to the next season. For example, according to Scott Heyes’ model of the Kaurna calendar, the hot seasons of Woltatti and Bokarra occur when yabbies emerge from the mud, Grey Teals fly north, blue crabs and garfish are abundant in the coastal shallows and south to south easterly winds are dominant, with afternoon seabreezes. In Kaurna tradition, such ecological cues would trigger seasonal activities, for example the hunting of certain animals in abundance, the migration to coastal summer camps, and gathering of family groups for trade and celebration. There’s much we can learn from the depth of ecological observation and the reading of annual cycles of growth present in calendars like those of the Kaurna. Perhaps it’s time to imagine our own dynamic calendar for a changing climate.
Beautiful post Joel, it certainly has been a dry spring/Wulliti. Having the flexibility to ‘skip’ seasons if the cues aren’t there is certainly a strength of Indigenous seasonal calendars, particularly in a changing climate! I love seeing the contrasts between your farm , much more ‘working with, rather than against’ Nature, compared with our very much human-dominated market garden. I imagine a landscape where both extensive and intensive agriculture co-exists according to the lands’ capability, like those of the dehesa – we’ll get there one day!
Thanks Nat – the admiration is mutual! We’re grateful that projects such as your Village Greens of Willunga Creek are working to develop intensive food production in our region, and are constantly in awe of your meticulous and considered approach! We agree that a food producing landscape needs both extensive and intensive agricultural forms, often dictated by the unique limits of the landscape itself. We see our ‘extensive’ approach as a way of refining our understanding of the landscapes capabilities as we narrow and intensify our focus over time. With the intention of having a significant number of tree crops for food and timber, experimentation is important, trialling small then scaling up. So it is with our timber – this year we planted a few small trial woodlots, all of which should theoretically thrive. On the cusp of summer one species (Eucalyptus occidentalis) is going great guns, another is holding on (Casuarina cunninghamiana) while one that seemed a perfect fit (Acacia salicina) has universally kicked the bucket. Next year, we scale up the survivors…