Feral Fruit Mapping: Update

map with cherry blossoms

About a year ago I mentioned here about the small but significant gesture that is Feral Fruit Mapping… and now it’s that time of year again (southside of this planet, anyways)… things are blossoming left, right and centre, and it is therfore a most excellent time to get your Feral Fruit Map going and map out where fruit is overhanging fences and growing roadside in your area, in preperation for the potential harvest to come…

Since I posted about this subject last year, I’ve discovered a bunch of folks both in Oz and abroad who are collating and sharing knowledge on this sorta subject in a variety of formats, which is great! However, I cannot help but be a little amazed that it isn’t happening more visibly, more often… ah well – perhaps one of the potential upsides to the recent economic downturn is that more people look to their back lanes and roadsides for some old-fashioned sustenance, rather than doing their hunting and gathering gathering only from their supermarket shelves…

A suitable inheritance

Lianas and Beechwoods in the escarpment above Kiama, NSW 

As a kid growing up on the seaside at Kiama (a pretty bit of the south coast of NSW) there was what would now be called a nature reserve between our house and the beach. When I was small it was just a bit of grassy space with a swamp at the end of it, and was where all the newly built households along that stretch came to dig out vast quantities of sand, to cart it back to their quarter-acre blocks for their kid's sandpits… despite the fact that there was are rather larger sandpit (ie a BEACH) right there for their kids to use whenever they liked… ever noticed how private pools figure largely in the backyards of beach-side houses? Same psychology, i think…

Anyway. My Dad decided that we would plant a costal forest on this sorry little strip of grass at the bottom of the hill, and endless sticky summer days were spent carting buckets of water to resuscitate all manner of seedlings that our family planted all up and down this open space – Norfolk Island Pines, Ti-trees, Coral trees, Banksias, more Banksias, more Ti-trees and later on a couple of Morton Bay Figs and even a costal Quince or two. This planting and watering cycle went on for most of my childhood, interjected with Dad rushing down the hill every now and then to intercept marauding kids who meandered up from the car-park at the other end of the beach  and attempted to trash the plantings. Good, clean fun.

I remember Dad telling me once that the avenue of Ti-trees we had planted that day would one day reach far above my head and create a tunnel that I could walk through, down to the waves. And I remember thinking that there was NO WAY that could ever happen, as I looked at those pathetic little seedlings already half lost in the long grass – yeah sure Dad – and I moped off feeling both resentful and tired after a day of hauling water from the little swamp on my fat little 5-year-old legs.

Now whenever I go back to my parent's house I wander though this place, my favorite forest… the ground is deep in topsoil after 30 years of leaf litter mulching it, the trees stretch tall and there are many tunnels through which I can walk down to the waves. Under one of the special trees are the ashes of my Grandmother and also my Great-Aunt, with a legion of family dogs, goldfish and other little critters laid to rest here and there in the many groves. This little forest is a privilege and a pleasure to be in, and now that the ecology has found a kind of balance, all manner of native species are popping up, both plant and animal, that would have never, ever stood a chance here 30 years past, when it was just that little windswept strip at the bottom of the hill.

So lately what we have been mulling over is this: what is a suitable inheritance? What things can you bequeath to your children that will actually enrich the environment and deeply connect the child to country at the same time? The above example is one way. But here at Milkwood, we're planning for another.

afternoon above the studio site at Milkwood

I've been gathering a collection of flying rumors about trees as inheritance. Not the plant-a-tree-and-save-the-world type thing, nor the offset-your-guilt-about-X-by-planting-Yx100-trees type thing, though both those concepts have their merits. Im talking planting specific trees for a specific purpose, specifically for that particular child. For example, I've heard that in Poland there is an old tradition of planting a grove of trees apon the birth of a child. The species of tree is chosen for its superior qualities of structural timber. When the child 'comes of age', that grove of trees is used to build their house with. Or there is the Chinese tradition of planting a grove of trees for every daughter (on certain islands of the Yangtze), the timber from which will become her dowry. Or the tradition in the south of France, where a line of Lombardy Poplars are planted for every girl-child, for the same reason…

The reason I like this idea of trees as inheritance (not dowry, mind you, just inheritance) so much is that it ties the kid to the land and to the country in specific way. You grow, you watch your trees grow. You can sit in the middle of your own grove. You have stewardship of something and you have responsibility for something. The actual outcome and the implications of what having a grove means might not resonate with a 6 year old, but that's fine. They are just your trees. And one day when you need them, they can be turned into high-value timber; for you to build something, or for you to secure something else, depending on your needs and wants.

And when it is time to turn your grove into a resource, it's not just a matter of cashing in that long-term deposit. It's a process which is real and actually happening in front of you, and contains all the emotions of transformation from one state to another. You can see it happening, smell it happening, and most likely you'll be deeply involved in the whole process of taking this resource from tall tree to dressed timber. And though this concept implies a different sort of 'worth' from the usual forms of inheritance, but I thinks it's the one that we're going for… 

As expectant parents (we're due at the end of Summer) we are about to embark on the process of choosing the species, location and other parameters of our first-born's grove… thinking, thinking… I'm all for Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra), Nick rekons Blackwood (Acacia Melanoxylon) would be better… hmm… we've got five more months to come to an informed and amicable decision…

Back steps, front steps

herb garden, caravan, puppydog

Milkwood basecamp with *new* no-dig herb garden, mulched path and puppydog

Vegetable gardens are the ultimate in complex, layered systems which have implications that flow through every corner of your daily life. And, no, I’m not being dramatic – I really believe this to be so… even more now that we’ve had to take a couple of major backward steps in order to move forwards with one of the basics of life… growing food to eat.

In Nick + my usual style, we appoached the Milkwood kitchen garden (Mark I) with much gusto. We chose a large area close to the studio site, sculpted beds, re-sculpted beds, planned the ultimate vegetable manifesto and then set about bringing it to life… and, also in our usual style, bit off more than we could chew.

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


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


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


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).