You can view a printable version of this Annual Report here.
We’re now three years into the Yarnauwi project. With all of our major water and fencing infrastructure in place, 2015 was a year of consolidating and refining our planting and grazing systems, and continuing to restore habitat while also developing income streams. Once again, we thank you for your support this year, whether that’s been planting trees, purchasing meat, hauling junk, offering advice or just being generally encouraging! We feel enormously privileged to have such a supportive community of family, friends and neighbours contributing to the restoration and development of this patch of ground.
Someone told us that it would take three to five years to see the impact of our revegetation efforts. Now, at the end of three years, passers-by can marvel at the appearance of two dark green smudges in the revegetation areas: a kangaroo thorn in the red gum area and a blue gum on the edge of a gully are now visible from the road. It’s a modest change, but these two enthusiasts are flanked by hundreds of not-quite-visible plants beginning to crest their tree guards.
In June, we were grateful to have the company of friends and family in planting out the front boundary and the western edge of the front paddock. Over a weekend, about 800 plants were put into the ground, including various indigenous species as well as experimental woodlots of Casuarina cunninghamiana, Acacia salicina and Eucalyptus occidentalis. Planted into some of the most exposed regions of the property, we experimented with enhancing seedling resilience by inoculating them with beneficial fungal mycorrhiza, and then mulching the plantings. While survival rates have been variable, survivor numbers outstrip the 2014 plantings in the same locations. We’ve also been delighted to share plants and experiences with our neighbours, with some neighbours fencing to connect their revegetation zones with ours, rebuilding riparian corridors through long-cleared paddocks.
To this point, much of our plantings have been experimental. We’ve put in a diversity of local species and to see what takes. This year we’ve worked to fine-tune this process through historical research into the ecology of the Fleurieu Peninsula, as well as visiting surviving patches of forest and woodland and honing our observation of the structure of plant communities and how they relate to aspect and soil.
We’ve conducted an audit of surviving plants, and made an effort to ensure that these are effectively protected from browsing kangaroos. While some areas remain sparse in their regeneration, it’s a surprisingly affirming process recording survivors. Some areas that we’ve scarcely visited in the two or three years since planting are dense with seedlings. It seems that seedlings that manage to get through their first summer have a high chance of ongoing survival, and we continue to be amazed by the capacity for dormancy and regeneration of a range of species. We’ve seen red gum seedlings wither to a stick in their first summer, but when the rains hit six months later they resprout and can double in size within weeks. Our audit suggests about a 1 in 3 survival rate without any supplementary watering: demoralising by urban gardening standards but exhilarating when considering these plants are growing on natural rainfall in compacted and eroded soils, regularly accosted by deer, kangaroos and hares and with minimal weed control and little mulch to moderate temperature and retain moisture.
It’s been clear from our visits to local woodlands that established, functional woodland environments have a significant moderating effect on climate, shelter and moisture cycling, creating the conditions for successful, ongoing reproduction. It’s also clear that an open, exposed paddock lacks many of these moderating processes: there’s no shade, soil may not retain moisture in the same way and brisk winds whip plants and animals alike for many months of the year. In this context, we celebrate the pioneers, the plants that have the tenacity to put down roots and begin the long process of regeneration. From our audit, of the 20-odd surviving plant species, the river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) is a clear champion, with golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) close behind. Rock wattle (A. rupicola) and kangaroo thorn (A. paradoxa) have also made an impact, with paradoxa having the advantage of being diabolically spiky and therefore providing some deterrent to roos. Also well represented were sticky hop-bush (Dodonaea viscosa spatulata) and twiggy daisy-bush (Olearia ramulosa) which also appears to be unpalatable to kangaroos.
In 2016, following the success of our first sales of mutton, milk-fed lamb and sheep hides, we recruited Dorper-Damara ram Pecorino from the Marcel family farm at Inman Valley. Pecorino’s time at Yarnauwi was shorter than expected, after a wild afternoon on the lupins turned tragic. However, he was with us long enough to sow the seeds of a spectacular reproductive legacy. By late spring, our flock had more than doubled, seething with lambs of every hue, many sporting the fat-tails of their Damara ancestry. We further augmented the flock with a handful of Damaras from the Barossa Valley, including Manchego, the as-yet-unproven heir to Pecorino’s throne.
While our initial flock of Wiltshire Horns have tolerated the challenging present conditions of the farm, as they age, we’re breeding the flock towards the hardy desert-bred Damaras. Said to originate in Egypt about 5000 years ago, the Damaras are distinctive for the wedge-shaped tails where they store body fat for utilisation in hard times. On warm days when the Wiltis are diving for cover, the Damaras will continue to browse, apparently oblivious to the sun. They also have the advantage of being less selective in their feed, an asset in our variable pastures.
As we refine our rotational grazing methodology, where the sheep and alpacas are cycling through a sequence of paddocks allowing the pasture to rest between grazings, we’re also increasing our flock numbers. With more mouths on the ground we can utilise available feed more effectively, but also try to manage the pasture and weed load through grazing, rather than mechanical or chemical means.
We’ll be conducting our main slaughter for the year in time for winter roasts, and in the spirit of using the whole beast, we’ll also be offering an array of hides for home decoration or craft projects. Stay tuned!
Other highlights of the Yarnauwi year included:
- Conducting our inaugural farm tour with an emphasis on permaculture planning processes for the Southern Fleurieu Permaculture Group
- Hosting Snag-a-Palooza, our first mutton sausage-making skillshare
- Hosting an alpaca-wool spinning workshop (thanks to Mary – marvel at her cleverness at localandbespoke.com)
- Constructing additional moveable sheep shelters (here, and here, thanks to Jeremy and Peter)
- Andrew’s ongoing mechanical wizardry resurrecting Ross the tractor
- Witnessing the first blossoms on our wattle seedlings
- Participating in ‘Plastic-free July’ in an effort to reduce farm and household waste
In 2016, a few things we’re looking forward to include:
- Establishing an online retail presence for farm related art and craft items
- Continuing to collaborate with our neighbours on regeneration and infrastructure projects
- Tree-planting from the opening rains until we reach a chlorophyll-fuelled crescendo with the Fourth Annual Tree Planting Extravaganza
- Participating as a Clean Up Australia site. In April, we hope to go some distance towards clearing the final motherlode of farm junk from our erosion gullies, and reappropriating some as erosion control structures. If frisbeeing sheets of rusty iron, constructing check dams from demolition debris, or standing on the edge of the abyss sipping gin and tonic and watching others do the aforementioned sounds like your idea of a good time, then please let us know! Tetanus shots are not included, however the gin is on us!
Thanks again, and see you soon!