So just over a year ago, our house dam filled for the first time. And then went into scary nearly-melt-down. So we pumped the water out, fixed it, and then waited for it to fill again. And waited. For a … Continued
For the last 2 and a half years we have waited for the big rain which would test the capacity of our water-harvesting earthworks. And waited. We’ve had a bit of rain here and there, but the summers have been hot and dry these last two years, and we had gotten used to life with half-full dams and swales which were good roads, but rarely wet.
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…
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.
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.