Discovering a hidden source of watercress

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One of the great things about acquiring a 22 hectare (56 acre) farm is that there are still many hidden corners and surprises yet to discover.

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The mini wetland at the top of the gully

One was the discovery of a small spring that feeds into the gully that runs beside the farmhouse. This has been running (slowly) even at the end of the recent very dry winter and spring, so that’s a good sign.

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One very happy patch of watercress

What we also stumbled across was a patch of watercress growing in the mini wetland at the top of the valley. The steady flow of water is exactly what it likes, and I can only guess that the previous owner must’ve planted some (?).

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Picked fresh, ready to eat!

Anyway, it tastes delicious on a sandwich, and we have every reason to expect that it will keep happily growing indefinitely…

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The bees are bearding, early in the season

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While the winter and spring has been dry in Sydney, it’s still a great place for the bees.

Even early in the season, several of our hives have been “bearding”. This is where the hive is getting very full — and therefore hot — and a bunch of the bees head out of the hive.

Some of the bees fan cool air into the hive, while others climb up the side of the hive as a “beard”. A few days after this video was shot,  we harvested our first box of honey. I think it’s going to be a busy season!

Our new shed and improved drainage

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The big news for us at the farm is the completion of our new ‘American barn’ style shed … which will finally allow us to get a tractor!

The new driveway to the shed is designed to shed the rain off one edge, to prevent the shed from flooding. While this is a good design, the first heavy rain we had immediately started eroding the 45 degree earth slope beside the shed.

So I spent a weekend creating a “rubble drain” to ensure that water doesn’t cause any more damage.

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The hand-dug trench, up the steep slope towards the driveway

The starting point was digging a trench that followed the line of erosion. This was lined with weed mat, and then filled will rocks that I lugged up the hill by hand. (A wheelbarrow’s no use on a 45deg slope!)

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The rubble-filled trench, looking up the 45deg slope

The first part of the trench also has a slotted ag pipe, to ensure good water flow, all of which is hidden by the layer of rocks.

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The top of the trench, beside the driveway, with the slotted ag pipe, and half-filled with rocks

It’s a great way to get fit (ha!), and the result is rather lovely I think. Tick that job off!

Helping city chickens with country technology

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With our time now split between the city and our farm, it’s a bit harder to look after our flock of chicken. While our neighbours are happy to help out (in return for eggs!), the less that has to be done, the better.

Enter some tried-and-tested country technology: the automatic waterer.

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Automatic watering bowl, opened up to show the float valve

This uses a ‘float valve’ to automatically cut the water when it reaches a specific height. When the animals drink from it and the levels drops, the water source cuts back in.

You won’t find this handy item at the local Bunnings; it is easy to find at a farm supply shop in the country. While it’s intended for horses, cattle, etc it works perfectly well for chickens.

This particular unit comes from the USA, and it has a 1/2″ connection for the water. With a bit of hunting in Bunnings I found a plastic adapter that went from 1/2″ to 3/4″, to which I could then add a standard hose fitting. Then it’s just click in the hose and you’re done.

One less thing to do in this busy life, plus happy chickens!

Creating a horizontal Warré hive

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I’m a big fan of Warré hives, and I have five in total, with most in Sydney and a growing number at Lewisham Farm down the coast.

When I was first learning from Tim Malfroy, he showed what he called a “coffin hive”, but I’d prefer to call a “Horizontal Warré hive” (much less scary!).

With a little bit of spare time at the end of winter, I decided to make one of my own.

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My horizontal Warré, with the lid off to show the arrangement of the frames

This is basically a Warré version of a Kenyan top bar hive (there’s also a “long Langstroth” that I’ve seen pictures of). It holds the equivalent of three boxes worth of frames, give or take.

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There’s an entrance at both ends, although one is normally kept closed

It offers some of the advantages of a top-bar hive, such as easy access to the hive, with no heavy lifting. It has an entrance at both ends, which can be used to easily split a hive in summer to create two hives (the second entrance is normally kept closed).

It’s obviously also interoperable with a normal Warré hive, which makes it more versatile.

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The hive with the plywood lid on

It’s important that the hive doesn’t warp, otherwise the frames won’t fit. So I constructed the hive from 30mm thick recycled hardwood (mostly Sugar Gum).

I was able to get the wood at half price from the odd-ends pile at my local lumber yard, but it still ran to $403 of materials. So not a cheap experiment, but something worthwhile nonetheless.

Now I just have to catch a swarm, and I’ll be off and running!

I’ll report on how the hive works as the season progresses, watch this space…

Second citrus patch planted

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GCADPlus drawing

Following on from our first patch of dwarf citrus, a family work gang has helped us plant out our second patch. This is of full-sized citrus, with supporting guild.

A few notes:

  • With full-sized rather than dwarf citrus, patch 2 is a little under twice the size of patch 1.
  • The ‘spine’ of the planting are three Elaeagnus Ebbingei a nitrogen-fixing plant that increases the fertility of fruit trees, and is highly-recommended for permaculture gardens.
  • There’s a mix of native citrus (eg finger lime), introduced citrus (eg navel orange) and a few that are hybrids of the two (eg sunrise lime).
  • I’ve snuck a few berry bushes into the understory on the Eastern side (currants and gooseberry). I want to test how they perform in increasing shade, as well as seeing whether all the fruit is eaten by birds, etc. Consider it a living experiment 😉
  • As before, everything is sheet mulched, with a bunch of ‘in-fill’ plants to go in shortly to shade out any weeds.

With Spring coming, lets see how this patch goes!

 

Our vision for Lewisham Farm and its edible forest garden

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The transformation of our 22ha property overlooking Nowra will take several decades. A core part of this journey is creating an “edible forest garden”, as described by Dave Jacke in his books with Eric Toensmeier.

One of the starting points is to document a clear vision or goal statement. There’s a few reasons for doing this:

  • it’s hard to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re headed!
  • an edible forest garden requires long-term planning
  • there are many different ways of creating a garden
  • there are often multiple people involved, with different goals, but with the need for a common vision

In our case, Priscilla is all about country gardens & flowers, and I’m all about big-scale transformations. So we sat down, did some brainstorming, then some wordsmithing.

I’m sure this vision will change hugely over the coming years as we learn a heap, but this is where we’re starting. (Note that Jacke recommends writing the vision as we’ve already achieved the outcome)

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At the centre of the property, the country-styled house is surrounded by a delightful cottage garden. Laid out in neat shapes, it provides a relaxed environment and a year-round supply of cut flowers.

Surrounded by vibrant rainforest on all sides, the broader property is devoted to an Australian ‘edible forest garden’ that provides an abundance of fruits, nuts and native bushfoods. Arranged as interconnected fields and ‘garden rooms’, the local micro-climates have been exploited to allow a great diversity of spaces, each with a very different feel and mix of plants.

There is also a tranquil pond with ducks, productive bee hives, a vegetable patch and a greenhouse for propagating plants.

Our friends and family have also enjoyed the escape from the city, as well as helping with every stage of the transformation. The small eco-cottages set in the more distant fields are rented out to provide a modest income.

This has been a decade-long journey, with the learnings shared with the wider permaculture community. We’ve been able to show how much can be done by part-time farmers, and how Australian rainforest plants can be integrated into a food-growing system. (1 August 2017)