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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

 

 

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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.

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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…

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 WarrĂ© hive

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I’m a big fan of WarrĂ© 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 WarrĂ© 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 WarrĂ© 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 WarrĂ© 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…