Lewisham farm

Planting as we go

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Too many properties are landscaped as an afterthought, with plants going in long after all the other work is done (or not at all). This is not how we’re tackling Lewisham Farm.

Planting the slope above the barn with natives

We’re intentionally planting as we go, entirely with Australian natives. This includes a wide mix of callistemons (‘bottle brushes’), grevillias, banksias and leptospermums (‘tea trees’).

There are good reasons for these plantings:

  • Most flower heavily, attracting native birds and feeding the bees.
  • They will flower throughout the year, providing Priscilla with cut flowers.
  • They will screen things like the shed and water tanks, blending them into the landscape when viewed from the house or road.
  • They help to define ‘garden rooms’, breaking up the acres into smaller spaces with their own character.
  • When planted densely, they will keep down the weeds, at least to some degree.
  • They will be beautiful, making the farm a lovely place to spend time.

By planting them early, they get a head start in the disturbed soil, before the grass and weeds have had a chance to reestablish themselves. It also means that we’ll get the benefits sooner!

Plants that will screen the water tanks from the house

By largely using tube stock plants, the cost of plants for a given area is only $50-100, which is nothing in the scheme of things.

And there’s much more planting to come…


Putting in place the basics of farm infrastructure

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As you can see from the “before” fly-over, our farm came with a lovely farmhouse, but not much else! Certainly not enough considering we’re totally off-grid in terms of power, water and sewage.

So while we’ve started planting out the first few patches of the edible forest garden, the focus has been on getting the basics of farm infrastructure in place.

The new shed, big enough for a tractor and all the parts that go with it

The centrepiece of these efforts has been the new farm shed (aka “the barn”). The local council required us to position it away from the road, so it ended up half-way down a slope.

Echoing the design of an American barn, the shed is 10.5m wide and 7m deep, with a big 3m x 3m central door for the tractor.

The brand new driveway to the house and barn, surfaced with crushed granite

Since the barn is now in the middle of a field, a new internal driveway was required. Befitting the location of the house, we decided to go all-out to create a pretty road.

The road down to the barn, with a large parking area in front

This meant a road surface of crushed granite (on a solid road base), with brick edging (on a concrete edge laid alongside the full length of the road). With Priscilla’s keen eye for aesthetics, we laid the road out with elegant “swooping” curves. We put a single car-parking spot in front of the house, plus a large parking area in front of the barn.

Brand new plastic water tanks, with pipes running down from the barn

The final phase was the addition of two 22,000L plastic water tanks below the barn, to catch the run-off from the roof. This triples our overall water storage.

The new tractor, which turned out to be a tight squeeze in the barn!

Oh, and with the barn in place, I was able to purchase a brand-new 46hp Kubota tractor, which will be vital in reshaping the property 🙂

This is, however, still just the start of more work needed on the basic infrastructure. Activities yet to be done:

  • One final water tank on high ground, which we’ll switch to using for the house, plus the garden. That will get us up to about 100,000L in total.
  • A water pipe laid from the barn tanks (at the bottom of the property) to the new water tank (at the top), with a solar pump used to get the water up the slope.
  • A power line run to the final tank, for a good-sized pump.
  • A vegetable patch and greenhouse, with a water line run from the tank.

Phew! Still, a lot of this can be done with the new tractor, and everything is more fun with a tractor 🙂



The “before video” of Lewisham Farm

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This video was taken a few months after we acquired Lewisham Farm, 22 hectares of paradise overlooking Nowra. The property is completely off grid (water, power & sewage), and the land is 2/3 rainforest.

In this aerial view, you can see:

  • The farmhouse, which is lovely, but requires a lot of little fixes
  • The new solar PV, which we had to put in quickly when the old system died in week one
  • One small water tank containing 15,000L, which ran dry at the beginning of Summer
  • The concrete pad for the farm shed (now constructed, photos to come!)
  • A single beehive, now kept company by two others
  • The first two citrus patches, starting our journey towards an edible forest garden
  • Plenty of open fields, some of which have been heavily eroded by horses
  • The beautiful Australian bush that surrounds our farm

A heap has happened since this has been taken, follow us on instagram for more photos and videos to come!


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.

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.

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 (?).

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…

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.

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!)

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!