The First Few Weeks at ‘Caroola’ (NSW, Australia)
Continuing from a previous, introductory, post.
I started out with the strategy of walking the paddock closest to the house. I took a spade and camera and walked along the boundaries and across the centre. Digging and looking at the soil, taking photographs, looking at the trees and the pasture, the slope, where was wet and not wet, erosion, fences and so forth…. A lovely late afternoon in the outdoors!
What I found was some really sandy soil with some clay and lots of erosion around the fences and gate area where the previous owners’ ponies had congregated… also some good piles of pony poo (still have to go and pick those up for the compost pile).
My plan was to walk a paddock a day (none of them are over 10 acres) and really get to know each paddock and investigate the different hills and gullies, pasture and soil types, however, it then started raining and rained hard for a few days. So, that part of the plan has been put on hold for a while.
I had also ordered and taken delivery of a chipper/mulcher to shred branches pruned from the numerous trees near the house area into finer material to use as compost. I thought I’d chip some cuttings and start putting together material for a no-dig vegetable garden.
I had been collecting cardboard, particularly as I was unpacking boxes, so I laid thick layers out on a 3 x 3 metre corner section of the lawn and watered it all in (note to self, you can never have enough cardboard to do this, I was surprised at how much was used). Next, I was going to chip branches onto it and then just let it sit, but of course the chipper didn’t have much fuel in it when it was delivered, so I had to put that project on hold until I next went into town (20 mins away) and had the chance to get fuel.
Unfortunately, between the weather turning foul and having to attend to off-site responsibilities for a while, the cardboard is still sitting there, spread out on the lawn all by itself… still, it would be killing the grass I guess.
Not to waste the day I then decided I would plant the six bare-rooted fruit trees that I had bought for only $16 each at the local produce store – a pear, peach, nectarine, two plums and a pomegranate. I first worked out where I wanted them based on their long-term height and width and the siting of existing trees. My plan was to get them in the ground and mulched and go back later and plant understorey plants – mainly ground covers like strawberries and mint which I have excess of.
The first two holes I dug had so much clay in the soil that just one bucket of water in each did not drain within five hours. I decided a clay breaker was necessary for that area, and so I put the trees aside to plant another day and added gypsum to the list of things to procure in town.
I did, however, manage to plant out the other trees and put some decent mulch around them, but still have not got back to the understoreys yet. Still, it was good to get them in while it rained.
The next week we actually had snow, so I’m glad that vegetable garden didn’t get any further along as the plants probably would not have survived.
My highlight was the successful planting out of the plant divisions that I had got from Milkwood Permaculture whilst doing their Forest Garden workshop with Dan Harris Pascal – excellent course by the way! In gaps under existing trees where ground cover was lacking I planted out strawberries, mint, borage, comfrey and oregano — variously providing ground cover, pest deterrent and nutrient mining.
Fortunately I also had the forethought to purchase a 50m length of pressure controlled drip-line from the local rural supplies store which I plugged into an existing garden tap and snaked across various garden beds… The plants had travelled five hours to be here in the car with me and the last thing I wanted was them to die of dehydration.
So, it was a burst of activity in the first few weeks interspersed with some setbacks.
I have now, however, taken a step back to strategy which is probably where I should have stayed before I got too excited.
With visits from experienced permaculture practitioners Campbell Wilson (also) and Nick Huggins (also), who I am lucky enough to have in my local area, I am now in the process of pulling together information for a complete design (and perhaps flow-on course) before I take any other major planting action.
For one, my planned vegetable garden does not really get enough sun, so it’s more likely to be a greenhouse area, which is fine and won’t waste the work I have done. I don’t mind the position of the fruit trees, but now I think about it the septic line does run somewhere under two of them after all… Ahh, the importance of proper planning. I guess one of the best ways to learn is to make mistakes!
We’ll see what the next few weeks brings in terms of brainstorms and planning!