The studio dam, the one halfway up the ridge and in the middle of our system, was the first one we all sunk our teeth into. And boy oh boy…earthworks are something else… it’s like having your skin torn off in large slabs, while someone tells you it’s not skin, it’s just butter. No problem…
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.
Aerial photo of Kirwin, with Milkwood top left-ish. Taken in about 2002, we think.
Standing on a bare hilltop, with the creek below and a small creekflat to the left, it all seemed so easy when we first got here… all we had to do was figure out where to put some structures, avoid the big trees, and build a bridge over the creek to get in. Grow something on the creekflat, put in a vegie garden, and get water from the sky… and the rest of it all, all those complex ideas and fiddly bits, could just wait till we were nicely set up.
Site of Strawbale studio and middle dam, looking southish – the courtyard will be on this side, along with a few prize deciduous trees.
One of the things that always gets me is seeing old photos of how a place used to be. I have a photo of what the headland at Kiama looked like when it was still a windswept farm – before my parents (and everyone else) put up their brick-veneer houses in the 60’s and turned it into prime-real estate, densely packed suburb it is today….
So in light of this, and because we like to document things (incase you hadn’t noticed) , Nick and I have committed to a very long-term project: Milkwood Timelapses. Every morning before sunrise, we will walk the boundary of Milkwood, taking photos from 7 different points. We will do this each morning, every morning that we are here, until such a time as we can walk no more… and by then we will have trained monkeys to do it for us. Or some future solar-powered zero-footprint adsl whizz-bang gadget which requires no maintainence and also makes cheese as a byproduct.
So – the compost pile is made…. fast forward to two weeks later… the compost is composting! Despite my well-intentioned but slightly incorrect assemblage (i really should have shredded all that glossy newsprint, or at least ripped it up into smaller pieces), my fast compost pile is hot-hot-hot! Maybe even a little too hot. Not to worry, I can cool it down by turning it more regularly. And we can only learn by doing, really…
Water is precious. And hard to find, around here. The process of designing hydrology into a site so that whatever water is available is used intelligently and for multiple purposes before it is allowed to seep out of the soil and into the creek is a tricky task. We have spend nigh on a year now, just watching the rainfall and the landscape and thinking and planning how we would best design Milkwood to make the most of our limited rainwater catchment.
Milkwood in 2006… yet to become carbon sequestration central, due to overgrazing for… oh… only the last 100 years or so…
Last weekend Nick and I trooped off to the inaugural Carbon Farmers Conference (the first of its kind in Aus) which was conveniently held in Mudgee, just up the road (it’s quite a long road, though – this being the country and all).
And holy cow it was a jam-packed two days… The conference was set up to thresh out the concepts behind Carbon Farming – a term used to describe the process of sequestering carbon into good, healthy soil. This concept isn’t that hard to grasp – we’re all surrounded by a gazillion ‘carbon credit’ systems at the moment – systems and companies who are offering to ‘zero your footprint’ or ‘make your wedding carbon neutral’ or whatever… and the ethics of that industry is a long conversation in its self, which I will set aside for now (there’s plenty about it online though, if you want to get all riled up).
Compost is so good, and so essential to the establishment of any system. Balcony garden, a big kitchen garden, or just the pot-plants. Surprisingly, despite being such a benchmark of any system that involved growing stuff, it can be quite daunting to make… even tho everything you need is already there, around you, begging to be transformed, with a bit of knowledge and elbow-grease, into kick-arse super-duper soil with added flavours…
The Loquat tree next door at Kirwin is a mighty beast – and it is much beloved by many of the birds hereabouts. Its got dense green foilage year round, doesn't give a toss about frost, becomes a humming tree in winter as the bees go crazy with all of its blooms, and then has masses of fruit before Christmas. If only I could strike it from cuttings… but apparently it grows well from seed – yay. It is definitely a power tree and i want as many as i can possibly have all over Milkwood.
While poking about in my nursery, which sits underneath this great specimen, today I discovered a new little friend on the ground. He'd fallen out of his nest which is way, way up at the very top of the tree (a sort of messy openwork arrangement of sticks), and from the look of his anxious mother, he is a red Wattlebird. Given that Cobba, the kelpie sheepdog, is also housed under the Loquat, i thought I'd make the little cheeper a temporary nest to prevent him from becoming Cobba's supper.
So now he is happily housed in a shoebox on a branch, and his mum comes and feeds him regularly, along with his sibling who is still way up in the tree, wobbling precariously on a branch. I take it both babies are out of the nest and stretching their new legs, although both can't actually fly yet, it seems, and the little cheeper got a bit ahead of himself and ended up on the ground. I don't think they're far from flapping about though – maybe a couple of weeks?
On the other side of the same tree, the willie wagtails (just about my favourite bird) are setting up home in the cutest little nest. Lots of calling and fussing, but not much actual sitting on the nest as yet. I check it every day for signs of family action. Fingers crossed. All this makes for a quite communal feeling in my nursery, in which the fig cuttings are actually GROWING! I feel like a right professional.
Last weekend we were down in Sydney teaching an Introduction to Permaculture course, which went really well. Two days of intensive learning, discussing, eating and exploring. Lots of new friends made. It was especially great to see students make connections between each other – that old story of new friends you hadn’t met yet, just around the corner from your house.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a light! And it is bright! And it lets us read at night. Hooray!
Just for the record, we got all the bits for our little solar setup from The Solar Shop (ordered online), with minimum fuss and bother.
For the energy-techies out there, you’ll be pleased to know that our solar panel is of the amorphous type… lowest possible embodied energy panel on the market. And I think the whole setup cost us around the $350 AU mark… not bad for 15 years worth of light, no? How exciting to be able to read AND cook in the one space simultaneously….
As I think I’ve mentioned, this part of Australia is, although it doesn’t look it at first glance, a labyrinth of abandoned settler’s orchards. Every farm around here seems to have at least two of these gnarly fruit-thickets over in a back paddock somewheres. These old orchards are the only sign left of previous shacks and farmhouses which dotted the landscape here over a hundred years ago, during the gold-rush years.