When our livestock are moved into the next paddock, or the trough needs a clean, the contents, up to 450 litres of water, are dumped into the pasture. While we’ve tended to hold a ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ mentality for our tree planting, we couldn’t help but feel that this water could be better directed on nearby seedlings. So, a little while ago, we whipped up our first attempt at a stock trough water diverter that would do just this. 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).
As the two remnant trees on our farm, River red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) hold a special place in our hearts. Our red gums are bent and stretch up the hillside away from the prevailing winds. Red gums are not unique to the Fleurieu however, in fact, their high level of adaptability means that they have a distribution across Australia, most commonly occurring on floodplains and waterways as well as throughout higher rainfall regions.
With red gums as a significant species in the past ecosystem of our property, they’ve been a clear choice for revegetation. When planting, we’re constantly inspired by their resilience. I’ve heard it said that red gum roots grow at a centimetre a day, which puts them at over three-and-a-half metres a year. If it’s true, then it’s an indicator of their startling ability to find water and nutrients. We’ve been amazed by some of our red gums that have shot to almost 1.5 metres after a couple of years in the ground, but also by their apparent capacity for dormancy. Some seedlings will sit in dry, cracked clay soil for months on end, leaves green but not growing. Then, with a decent rain, they burst into new growth. Likewise, others appear to have died, leaving nothing but a dry stick until the opening rains of autumn when they reshoot from the ground, sending out a profusion of leaves and spindly branches. We’ve noticed some other plants behave similarly – the occasional melaleuca or acacia for example – but none so consistently and successfully resurrect themselves as the red gum.
Our alpacas Fidel and Ernesto have tolerated the heat for some weeks now, so there was general celebration when their shearing day arrived. Unfortunately, it also happened to be a searing, humid afternoon when we attempted to load them onto the trailer to transport them down the road to Delamere’s stunning Whistling Pig Farm where the shearers would meet us and clip our respective animals. In the past, we’ve thought of Fidel and Ernesto as compliant, if a little aloof, but that afternoon, with the sun beating down, they flatly refused to step aboard the trailer. We bribed, cajoled, pushed and persuaded in every way we could think of, but they just sat down in the grass, leaned against the trailer tailgate, and ignored us. Thankfully, the shearers were passing, and in a matter of seconds had them aboard on their way to Whistling Pig.
With recent temperatures climbing into the 40s (about 107 degrees Fahrenheit), and tree-induced shade still a few years away, we’ve constructed another moveable sheep shelter to ensure our sheep and alpacas have a cooler place to recline on the most hostile of days.
Employing the off-grid carpentry prowess of Jeremy and Pete, we knocked up the second shelter to the same rough plan as the original: salvaged hardwood for a sled base, allowing it to be dragged from pasture to pasture, fallen redgum for uprights, and tin reclaimed from the gullies for the roof. The previous life of the tin means that a hole is already cut for the installation of a pot-belly stove, should the sheep find one that fits their budget. This sheep shelter also includes a perch, should passing birds need a break while searching for a tree. Continue reading
We’ve been gradually easing into the festive spirit, and this year attempting to create our own wrapping paper. This design was inspired by the gums we’ve become so acquainted with, and unexpectedly, one of our red gums is already flowering enthusiastically. The prints are hand-carved from rubber printing blocks, and printed using acrylic paints. Season’s greetings!
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.
In this special guest post, Joel’s dad Jeff Catchlove shares some of his memories and photographs from camping trips to the South-Western Fleurieu in the 1950s and 60s.
Second Valley has always been close to my heart. I’ve just turned 70 and reminiscence is inevitable. Our childhood was unencumbered – most of us were poor, though we didn’t know it. There was no TV but we just as eagerly listened to Biggles, Hop Harrigan, the Goons and Hancock’s Halfhour on ‘the wireless’. We also played outdoors every day, both at school and at home. Children’s books were limited to Enid Blyton, Captain W E Johns and Eagle or Daily Mail Annuals. We dressed in suits to go to ‘town’ on the trolley bus or train and the family acquired its first car when we were ten or so years old. That revolutionised the possibilities of where we could go as a family. Our FJ Holden quickly ushered in trips to Mt Gambier, the Great Ocean Rd, even Queensland so my dad and we could visit his Air Force mates again.