Autumn adventures

students planting trees on the swale

Our Permaculture Design Certificate students planting trees on the main swale

'Twas an autumn of harvesting apples, and to a degree, reaping what we had sowed… we may not have brought a crop in at Milkwood, so to speak, but we sure did our Autumn toil.

To summarise the last period of time, Milkwood was awash in farmers, tractors, students, caravans and Keyline Plows. There was much planting of trees and eating of stews, and many, many pots of tea were drunk… a wood-fired shower materialized, a bigger (quite deluxe, really) Milkwood HQ caravan arrived. Landscapes were charted, courses were convened, hillsides were surveyed and many cakes baked…

 The cause of all this kerfuffle was, in part, a bunch of courses we ran out of the family woolshed. I'll spare you the details (though they were all really fabulous, exciting and excellent) but suffice to say that they all went very well. 

First up was a 3-day Keyline Design Course which was attended by 35 farmers and earthmoving operators from as far north as Maroochydore and as far south as Adelaide… Darren Doherty had them all enthralled regarding the potential of Keyline Design (I think – they looked pretty engrossed), which is a set of design parameters and techniques to hold water in the soil without large-scale, expensive earthworks, by working with the contours of the land. Photos.

Secondly, there was the Permaculture Design Certificate Course – a two-week, live-in, boots-and-all course attended by 15 brave souls from across the land of Oz and also from far flung places such as Vietnam, Japan and the US of A. Darren Doherty taught this one too (with Nick Ritar and Tom Bell contributing sessions) and goodness gracious but he was fine… two weeks of Permaculture Design Theory (supplemented with tree planting, surveying, compost making and propagation), followed by a substantial design exercise. This group took it all in their stride and came out the end of those two weeks far wiser than they went in… and slightly more sunburnt, too. Photos.

Lastly was a 3-Day course called Designing Water into Landscape. This was one we held off-site – Goulburn, in fact… 3 days with both Darren and Geoff Lawton, the affectionately dubbed 'earth surgeons'… and that was something else again.. whew-ee. Great stuff. Photos.

But all seasons have their end (just as well – we were quite tired out by the end of all that). We're settling down for winter here – nearly finished the first half of the Kitchen Garden (stay tuned), propagating, propagating, propagating (just like last year), and wondering if one can plant too many turnips… I hope to be gathering 60% of our food from Milkwood by the end of Winter… hmmm… if only I could graft a green thumb onto my novice digits…

Vegie Garden: Autumn Report

Blooming Nasturtium

Over the last few weeks we have FINALLY managed to begin on the vegie garden so I thought now would be a good time to start another Milkwood ritual – The Change of Season Vegie Garden Report!

Our new vegie bedsBeing on the bottom half of this great big beautiful blue ball summer has slipped away and autumn is upon us. The evenings are getting chilly already.

While we were digging our first dam, we got the local earthmoving company to bring in a ginormous yellow excavator to dig two big terraces just uphill from the dam. This is the spot we (hope to) will build our little strawbale studio, the first part of our future home. Trying to follow the “oftenest = nearest” permaculture principle we extended the terraces to the south east to create a very large space for our kitchen garden, only about 10 meters from our back door.

Our first dam

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cBerVdPsqk]

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…

Surveying the site from scratch

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJTssuxBMhU]

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.

Milkwood – the water design

aerial shot of kirwin

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.

Milkwood Timelapses: and so it begins…

studio site looking south

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.

How to make Compost: Pt.2

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i30BxEvOXRs]

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…

Earthworks, water and other fantastic fun

lily pags in Geoff's dam

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.

Carbon Farming Conference 07

looking north at milkwood
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).

How to make Compost: Pt.1

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or7WvoOVbuM]
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…

Baby birds in the Loquat tree

 

baby wattlebird

 

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.

 

loquat tree

 

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?

 

wille wagtail nest

 

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.