Surveying the site from scratch

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Having grand plans is all very fine, but there comes a time when one must make the first, single, decisive gesture towards action.

For us, this meant placing a small wooden peg, painted white, at the southern boundary of Milkwood. And then surveying a contour which continued aaaallllll the way around the hillside at the same height as that first peg, right around to the other boundary of Milkwood on the western side of the ridge. This first contour was important to mark out for a couple of reasons:

  • it will mark the ‘level’ for the middle swale of our Permaculture design, and therefore the level of the middle dam (and in turn, therefore, the position of the studio)
  • being roughly in the middle of the system, this contour will be used to define the placement of features above and below it (like greenhouse/chookhouse combos, the kitchen garden, the orchard, the bath house)
  • as swales are tree growing systems, this contour will define where a belt of trees (all productive, food bearing ones) runs through the centre of the Permaculture system
  • because you have to start somewhere

And so we whacked the first peg into the soil of Milkwood. Which wasn’t too easy at the time, given the 6-year drought – the soil was quite un-enthused about opening up for our peg. But even the soil of Milkwood (in it’s sorry, overgrazed state) was no match for our collective enthusiasm. And in a year or so, that soil will be hydrated, friable and hopping with life.

Following the experience of the Cowley level and the laser level, it was clear that the laser level was going to be an indespensable tool for the amount of surveying and earthworks we intended to carry out at Milkwood. And having one around would be quite handy for outside projects and teaching, too. So  we went out and sourced a cheap laser level at auction, and now we are lasering our little hearts out. It’s so good. You can re-check levels in the blink of an eye… and earthworks is like carpentry, only to the power of 10… measure twice, measure twice again, cut once.

One of the great things about surveying out a site is that you go through the entire landscape very slowly. You’re looking in all directions as you move around the contour, and you begin to appreciate exactly what bits are level with what, and what features are markedly higher than others. And this makes a big difference, when you’re trying to analyze how the rainwater runoff ‘works’ within a particular landscape.

As i write this, we have finished just about all of the surveying for Milkwood. Everything has been pegged, measured, and re-measured within an inch of its life. All of the swales, dams, access ways and structure sites exist in a language of little white pegs throughout the grassy hillside. It’s all action stations from here on in… fingers crossed… bring on the bulldozers…

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