annual report, books, ecology, erosion, farm, Fleurieu, Fleurieu Coast, kangaroos, livestock, permaculture, photography, planning, revegetation, seasons, soil, southwestern Fleurieu, summer, trees, winter, yarnauwi
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.
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.
As part of the Fleurieu Coast Festival of Nature, we participated in a “Natural Grazing” workshop led by Dick Richardson and Ben Ryan, at the Ryan property at Deep Creek. This challenged our thinking about the way carbon moves through the landscape and provided ample practical skills for us to trial on our own patch of ground.
Later in the year, Sophie attended a forum on Regenerative Agriculture on the Fleurieu, organised by Ideas on the Fleurieu. This event demonstrated a strong level of interest and motivation among Fleurieu farmers and communities to move towards more regenerative ways of managing the landscape.
To support this, we’ve also begun working with Future Farmers SA, a not-for-profit initially established to coordinate Deep Winter in South Australia and now evolving into an organisation to support emerging regenerative farmers and their allies in the state.
There’s been doing lots of reading and watching to support our thinking this year too. Here are some highlights:
- Call of the Reed Warbler, by Charles Massy: the central text for regenerative agriculture in Australia, essential reading
- Water in Plain Sight, by Judith Schwartz: a highly readable investigation of the connection between restoring water cycles and sequestering carbon through agriculture
- Innovations for Regenerative Landscape Management, produced by Soils for Life: a clear and comprehensive collection of strategies, techniques and case studies for regenerative agriculture in Australia
- The Overstory, by Richard Powers: an incredible novel that weaves together the stories of nine different characters and their relationship with trees
- Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering 2019: all the talks and workshops from Deep Winter are available to listen to now
- Down to Earth: The Planet to Plate Podcast, produced by the Quivira Coalition, an organisation that works with farmers and ranchers to rebuild landscape function in the American West.
Building and Growing
Reflecting on the next stages of our farm development, in 2019 we concluded our share farming arrangement with Little Gorge Farm, removing all livestock from the farm to allow the pastures to rest, and to allow us flexibility to begin establishing our silvopasture zones.
In the summer, we also finally achieved all weather access to the property, with the construction of a creek crossing and access track from the new farm entrance. In addition to providing access to the property, the track also provides a fire break across the front of the property from our main fire sector, the main road.
In winter, we were joined again by our amazing community of tree planters and supporters to expand woodlots, establishing some trial timber species in the silvopasture paddock and fill in gaps in windbreaks, planting our seven thousandth tree. The use of trees to manage fire was part of this project, with plantings of holm oaks (Quercus ilex) along the driveway, and the expansion of our Eucalyptus occidentalis woodlot, a species that bares soil under the canopy reducing fuel load. Our volunteers also replanted the area burnt earlier in the year, to stabilise erosion and form a habitat corridor along a gully. This year we trialled some new 900mm corflute tree guards from ERA Nurseries in Victoria. So far they have been generally good with outstanding tree growth outstripping the growth from trees in our tradition corflute and mesh combo. How we protect them from grazing kangaroos once they crest the top of the guard is yet to be determined however!
Also in the winter we further refined our lo-fi erosion control methods, finally arresting some of our most erosive headcuts through a combination of reshaping, armouring with rock and rubble, adding gypsum and seeding with native perennial grasses.
Through winter we trialled the small-scale reseeding of some areas of pasture, also spreading a cultured compost to feed soil life. It was a mixed success, some areas established well, while other spots struggled with weed competition. The surplus compost has been well used for fruit trees and timber plantings. We were delighted to expand our small, experimental orchard with a selection of the “world’s best” fig varieties from the collection of legendary permaculture farm The Food Forest.
In spring, we welcomed bees back to the farm, and have been enjoying developing our skills working the hive. As beekeepers know, bees are endlessly fascinating creatures and are mesmerising to watch. We’ve begun mapping flowering sequences in the local area to identify any forage gaps as well, so we can redress these with our plantings.
Spring was also the season of endless slashing to reduce fuel load. Without livestock, the pasture grew, and grew, and grew, so we were appreciative when a local farmer offered to strategically cut some paddocks for silage, reducing fuel load and preventing some weeds from reseeding.
Meanwhile, the reemerging woodland just keeps growing. Despite the heat and dry, summer is the season of growth for many of our revegetation plantings, thriving in the heat. We were recently looking at the publication we produced to document the first five years of Yarnauwi, and the trees we were proud of then are dwarfed by their size two years later. We’ve been able to remove more and more guards from the trees now they’re sturdy enough to resist the attentions of kangaroos. Thrillingly, as we walk through the trees, we observe a growing community of woodland life appearing: eucalyptus and acacia dependent insects have moved in, and with them, the occasional visit from small birds.
The potential for grazing to build soil carbon and restore landscape function is increasingly well documented and we’re beginning to understand how herbivores can be used as a key tool in regenerating our landscape. With our revegetation efforts well on the way to providing shelter, shade and habitat, stabilising erosion and holding water in the soil, we’re beginning to explore how we can improve pasture through managed grazing.
We’d like to eventually return livestock and manage them more intensively, with regular movement and appropriate rest periods. We’re also exploring how to move towards more mobile water and fencing infrastructure, and also look at free choice mineral bars to allow the animals to self-select the nutrients they need and to remineralise the soil through their manure. Likewise, we also hope to kickstart soil life through applying amendments such as compost teas.
We’re hoping that good grazing practice can be our primary tool for restoring pasture and managing weeds. A little while ago we came across the work of Vail Dixon, which really challenged our perception about the role of weeds in the landscape and effective ways of managing them in the long term. This then put us on to the work of Elaine Ingham and the Soil Food Web, and the importance of creating the conditions for desirable species to thrive. This is one reason why we think management is so important – if our management of the landscape isn’t right, then the same symptoms will keep recurring regardless of how much chemical treatment we apply. Likewise, we understand that weeds move in when there is an ecological need, so we’re trying to understand why we get weeds in certain areas, what they’re telling us about the health of the soil or the landscape and what we should do next. On that, if you have any experience with Turnip Weed (Rapistrum rugosum), we’d love to hear from you!
I feel like we have a pretty good idea of what we’d like to do, but, perhaps like most people, have some barriers to being successful. Some of these barriers are financial, some are related to time, or equipment, or managing relationships or the needs of family. However, what we lack in some areas we make up for by a wealth of support from our family, friends and community, and we are deeply grateful for this. We continue, small and slow, learning as we go.
Thanks for reading to the end! We’d love to hear from you if you have any book, listening, viewing or other recommendations that might be useful, inspiring or instructive.