We’ve tried to structure our farm year so that summer is a time of dormancy, maintaining the property, but avoiding too many big jobs in the heat. With an historic heatwave across southeastern Australia, and four consecutive days over 40 degrees for South Australia, we thought we’d make an exception to construct another shelter for our long-suffering sheep.
Recently we’ve been thinking a lot about soil. After all, it is the International Year of Soils, and really, without dirt, there’s not much else. Understanding how our soils work and how to restore them is an essential part of our regeneration project and their structure and composition help define the boundaries of what’s possible on our patch of ground. As Adamson and Osborn asserted in their pioneering 1924 study of the ecology of the eucalypt forests of the Mount Lofty Ranges, climate and soils are the primary factors in determining ecological variation in the region, so even where the scrub has long been cleared, soils can also offer a memory of past ecosystems.
However, it’s taken us a while to unravel meaningful information about soils. There’s a whole new vocabulary, and when you don’t yet know your Kandosols from your Kurosols the whole experience can be a bit mystifying. To make things even more complex, there are oodles of different technical terms for describing any particular soil type, depending on era or classification systems. So we thought we’d share some resources that we’ve come across that may be of use in working out what you’re sitting on. Continue reading
After three months, our tree planting activities are finally finished for 2015. The pattern is always the same. Sophie does her best to moderate my impulses, but when the opening rains come I always seem to get a rush of chlorophyll to the head and end up with boxes of seedlings more than we could ever reasonably plant. That said, with the support of our community of family and friends, this year we planted 1000-odd trees, shrubs and ground covers, 300 grasses propagated from seed collected on the property, and still had a few boxes to give to neighbours.
We’re in our third season of tree planting at Yarnauwi now, working to revegetate sections of the property for habitat, shelter and timber. We’ve planted about 1,000 plants a year, from groundcovers to future woodland giants. Once they were guarded from marauding roos, we’ve necessarily had a philosophy of leaving the plants to survive without too much intervention. Even in a dry year such as 2014, we had a modest 60ish percent survival rate, but with El Niño tipped to recur in 2015, we’ve tried to further refine our approach to give our trees an improved chance of survival. Of course, there are absolutely no guarantees it will work, or will work for everything, but it’s worth a shot.
This year, we’ve also planted our first, experimental, woodlot of river oaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana) in an awkward corner of the farm. The paddock was too small and inaccessible to deep rip, so we began by marking contours with a bunyip water level, an essential DIY tool for measuring and marking slope (see Brad Lancaster’s guide to bunyip construction and usage here). Continue reading
Recently we’ve been obsessing a bit about the history of our landscape (here, here, and even here, for example). It comes as the consequence of the last few years of reading and thinking about how Australia’s landscape and water systems have changed over time, but we hope it’s not purely an intellectual exercise. Understanding how our landscape was 200 years ago acts as a good guide for planning its future potential and limitations. By attempting to unravel the threads of actions and consequences that have reshaped these hills and valleys over the last couple of centuries, we can also not just address symptoms (such as treating an erosive headcut with a Zuni Bowl), but can also have a go at working on the causes of dysfunction in our soil, water and ecosystems. A lofty goal, but as Wes Jackson quips, “if your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough!”
This spaghetti-and-meatballs flowchart is our first go at representing what might have happened in our neighbourhood over the last 180-odd years, compiled from reading, observations, historical records and discussions. It provides us with a list of things to do as we attempt to address elements of this (for example, in this year’s tree planting, we’re inoculating our seedlings with beneficial fungi to restore mycorrhizal networks). We expect this chart to be tweaked, adjusted and rewritten over time as we discover new ideas or revise our assumptions. Perhaps a next step might be to construct a sequel that shows how we might attempt to improve some of this stuff.
Are there connections, consequences or other things we’ve missed, overstated or got plain wrong? We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
Weirdly, one of the elements we found appealing about our property was the erosion. In a fit of masochistic optimism, we were excited by the prospect of working to restore a degraded landscape to a level of ecological function, of seeing gully walls stabilised with plants and creeklines resounding with a froggy chorus. As we’ve explored the best strategies for managing and restoring these sections of the property, the advice we’ve received has often tended towards paying someone to think about it and do the work for us, purchasing expensive, industrially produced tools and materials, and utilising heavy machinery, all of which bring with them a substantial price tag. This disturbed us, because it seems to suggest that land restoration is the domain of those with cash to splash, and that those people or places without the necessary resources may just have to resign themselves to the continued collapse of their landscapes.
Thankfully, we came across the work of the likes of Craig Sponholtz, Brad Lancaster, Bill Zeedyk and Van Clothier, and in Australia, Cam Wilson and Peter Bennett. In their work, these thinkers and practitioners of water management and restoration, offer a radically different approach to watershed restoration. While they don’t flinch from the importance of technical understanding, they cultivate strategies that are based in the thoughful observation of those who are connected to a landscape, that utilise locally available materials, and that draw on community power to create modest interventions that can be tweaked over time. Rather than advising that landowners simply save up and pay an expert, their work seeks to empower communities to manage, monitor and maintain water in their landscapes through accessible, practical and locally-adaptable erosion control and water harvesting responses. In his foreword to Zeedyk and Clothier’s book Let the Water Do the Work, Courtney White articulates the characteristics of this approach: it is evidence-based, its affordability and relative simplicity make it accessible, it is based in ‘soft engineering’, challenging “the dominant paradigms of river and creek restoration”, it requires “humility, attentiveness and patience”, operating at the pace of the ecosystem, and finally, it’s at a human scale, flourishing with the participation of community, that offers “joy in companionship, in learning together, and sharing knowledge.” Continue reading
The following article was developed while preparing to host a forthcoming farm tour for the Southern Fleurieu Permaculture Group on applying permaculture principles in property planning. You can view a printable version, including an updated One-Page Place Assessment here.
After several years working in and advocating for sustainable food systems, in November 2012, we purchased 19 hectares of grazing land near Second Valley, 80 kilometres south of Adelaide. Our vision for the property is to cultivate a diverse, small farm that meets a large proportion of household food and energy needs as well as an income through direct marketing. With integrated forestry, grazing, revegetation and horticulture, we hope to develop Yarnauwi as an experiment in viable, sustainable small farming for the Fleurieu Peninsula. Farm enterprises and elements will be stacked to perform multiple functions and increase profitability, and will be developed at an economically and personally appropriate pace.
For our first couple of years, we’ve spent a great deal of our time trying to engage in thoughtful observation, learning the rhythms and patterns of the landscape. As we’ve tried to reconcile our own impatience to get things done with the pace of the climate and the land, we’ve adopted Wes Jackson’s assertion that “if your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.” It’s a reminder to be patient, to acknowledge that ecological systems have their own sense of time, and that many of the intentions of our planning may only be experienced by our grandchildren. Continue reading
Inspired by permaculture’s commitment to observation, over the last couple of years, we’ve become enthusiastic/compulsive gatherers of data about our farm. Everything we can think of to measure, we’ve tried to measure. Now, as we scale up our interventions, we can begin to track our impact and refine our management accordingly. As part of this, we’ve started a seasonal water quality testing program to monitor changes in the quality of our catchment as we revegetate the catchment and manage grazing more intensively.
We’ve assembled our own water testing kit, all stored conveniently in a secondhand mayo bucket from the local chip shop. Using this, there are a few characteristics we’ll test seasonally:
- salinity and temperature (both tested using an EC (Electrical Conductivity) Meter from your friendly local hydroponics vendor),
- pH (tested using pool pH strips from the hardware shop),
- turbidity is a measure of the amount of solids suspended in the water (measured with a DIY Secchi disk or turbidity tube),
- macroinvertebrate populations, the presence and composition of which is also an indicator of pollution levels (gathered with buckets and nets, and sorted with teaspoons into ice-cube trays).
2014 was a year where the dry season came early and stayed late. It seemed as if the rain barely had a chance to soften the ground and throw up some soursobs before our clay soils began to crack again and the pasture browned off. Despite this, after two years observing the rhythms of this patch of ground, I feel like we’re becoming more resilient and optimistic: where previously we despaired at every lost seedling, now we celebrate every survivor.
In the spirit of permaculture, this year also marks a transition from our observational period towards beginning to implement infrastructure for a sustainable farming enterprise. With fencing and water infrastructure for livestock, our appreciation of the need for water only deepens, and despite its challenges, we’ve learnt to stop worrying and love winter.
I’ve recently been working with Village Greens, a dream-team of young growers and permaculturalists, developing their logo and crowd-funding video. They’re establishing a sustainable, human-scale market garden in Aldinga, on the southern rim of Adelaide, and the northern expanse of the Fleurieu Peninsula. One of the ring leaders, Nat Wiseman, is a great friend of our farm, and has hauled junk or scythed thistles on more than one occasion!
The Village Greens team have negotiated access to an acre of land in the Aldinga Arts EcoVillage, and with their wealth of experience and enthusiasm are poised to transform it into a thriving market garden. Their crowd-funding campaign has kicked off and they’re currently seeking support to meet one-off infrastructure costs so they can get growing. Check out how you can support them here. Continue reading