2022 marks 10 years of working to regenerate this patch of ground we call Yarnauwi. There’s been some triumphs, and plenty of failure. Throughout it all, we’ve been inspired and encouraged by an amazing community of family, friends and neighbours, as well as the broader community of people working to restore landscapes and cultivate regenerative farms around the world. To celebrate, Joel’s been working on this little comic describing how the landscape has changed over this time. It’s an attempt to pay tribute to all those that have carried us, and this project, over the last decade. Thank you for your support.
Well, it’s a pretty niche topic for a comic, but with some recent time at home, Joel’s been working on this illustrated tale of our relationship with a particular weed: Rapistrum rugosum, or as it’s fondly and commonly known, turnip weed, giant mustard or bastard cabbage.
2022 also marks 10 years of our work with this patch of ground, so perhaps there are more comics to come! Enjoy!
Nine years ago, our community of friends and family stepped onto a soggy and windswept paddock and began their first year of tree-planting at Yarnauwi. Despite the disappointment of early failures, they’ve returned every winter since and in 2021 our friends returned again, taking the tally of trees and shrubs planted to almost 7800 since 2013.
After planting about 1000 trees a year for the first few years, we now have the luxury of reducing our plantings to a few hundred, filling in gaps and tweaking projects. This year, the focus was on developing a shelter and habitat belt around the front paddock and filling gaps in the emerging woodland of our “wilderness zones”. In honour of long-time friend-of-the-farm Anthony, currently constrained by lockdown interstate, we also planted several rows of Old Man Saltbush on contour through our silvopasture block.
Over the last nine years we’ve learnt a lot. With the right guards (corflute for humidity, mallee mesh for kangaroo protection) we’ve significantly increased the survival rate (from almost 0 to about 70-80%) without supplementary watering. Although we still have plenty to learn, we’ve learnt much more about reading soil and aspect, and matching the right plants to the right spots. After a subdued, Covidian planting last year, it was wonderful to welcome volunteers back to Yarnauwi and for the first time, there were moments when it felt like working in a woodland, rather than the open paddock of almost a decade ago.
We’re so grateful to our friends and family for their support and belief in the future. We look forward to seeing what the next nine years may bring.
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!
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.
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 →
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.
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.
A few evenings ago, someone set off fireworks on the road beside our property. Embers from the fireworks landed in the grass on the property boundary and quickly took, spreading through the dry summer grass along the fence and down a drainage line. Thankfully, our neighbours quickly noticed and set to work with their own fire unit while awaiting the arrival of the police and Country Fire Service. The blaze was contained with minimal damage, but it’s stimulated us to revisit our property plans and consider how we’re designing for the inevitability of fire.
“Trees are the poems the earth writes upon the sky” said Kahlil Gibran. Pete, Shani and Sophie prepare to plant.
This year is our fifth on Yarnauwi, and this June saw our fifth annual tree-planting extravaganza. Over the last five years, our amazing community of tree planters and supporters have planted 5000 trees and other plants on Yarnauwi as we work to restore woodland, stabilise and repair erosion and plant trees for future timber, forage and food. Following the last four years of observation and experimentation, in 2017 our main focus was planting carefully selected species into some of the more challenging areas of the property. Each year we’ve propagated and planted trees sourced from both Trees for Life and our own seed collection. In addition to their generous labour and time, we’re honoured that Yarnauwi regulars Richard and Marg have now immortalised the annual tree-planting tradition in a musical saga, published below and sung to the tune of Loudon Wainwright’s The Swimming Song. The lyricists also pre-emptively apologise for any character assassination contained within.
Putting in soil-stabilising groundcovers around the shed.
A week or two following the tree-planting extravaganza, we were delighted to host the Permaculture Association of South Australia for a walking tour and lunch, sharing our property planning process and how we’ve approached the landscape restoration through a permaculture lens – of which these plantings are a central element. Thank you to Tree Team 2017: Anthony, Pete, Shani, Arlo, Freya, Jeremy, Claire, Innis, Sal, Mary, Branny, Richard, Marg, Nat, Jess, Oliver, Gillian, David, Geoff and Andrew.
One of the electives at this year’s tree-planting fiesta was making plaster casts of animal tracks. Here we have a collection of fox tracks from the dam’s edge.