Continuing from the last post, the last few months of 2012 at ‘Caroola’ were a hive of activity, with many visitors taking the opportunity to help out along the way….
After deciding I needed to take the ‘planning’ approach, rather than just diving head on in to activities around the house and on the farm, I engaged Cam Wilson (author profile here) to look at overall farm design for me. So a fair bit of time was spent collating information, thinking about my objectives and measuring areas.
In between times, the focus was on sorting out inside the house in order to accommodate the family. I found some great second hand and recycled furniture stores around Canberra and received donations from family members. We now have a fully furnished house and attached two-bedroom fully furnished unit, lounges, beds and outside seating areas all included, so ready to accommodate guests and/or workers.
Surveying the dams
A couple of lovely afternoons were spent wandering the dams with the dog spotting turtles, yabby claws, yabby holes and different kinds of ducks and other bird life. Some of the dams had good reeds in them and some aquatic weeds yet to be identified.
Yabby holes on the dam
We surveyed the bigger of the dams in a kayak with a depth sounder and found it was a good 3 metres deep in the middle, 2 metres around the reeds and coming up to one metre amongst the reeds.
Assessing the depth
During Christmas and the New Year this dam proved to be a great place to escape from the heat.
Soil sampling across a number of the paddocks comprised of sinking the soil sampler into 15cm of topsoil with about 20-25 samples per paddock. This was much easier said than done, particularly on a hot day with some of the grasses in the paddocks over a metre high.
Suffice to say the soil is very compacted, making the job more difficult. The soil samples were sent off early December, and we await the final write up of soil analysis. Analysis of the tennis court soil samples have put them out of contention for planting trees due to the extremely high magnesium concentrations.
We also did some soil infiltration measurements using a tin, a ruler and some water and timing for 6 minutes to see how much water soaked in. The top 10 centimetres was pretty good, but the next 10cms barely saw 1cm of water infiltrate in the 6 minute experiment.
With a fall of only about 20 metres West to East across the property, it was important for us to start looking at one metre contours. After a fair exchange, agreement was reached — we borrowed a laser level and a party of us set out over the new year to do some detailed mapping in two of the paddocks.
This was difficult with high grasses and certainly an activity we all learned something from in terms of where to start, how to make it easier on ourselves and that perhaps first thing in the morning is the best time for this activity. We marked the contour points on a hand-held GPS so that they could be uploaded to mapping software, only ‘hard marking’ the fence boundaries – this made the activity much easier.
With quite a number of acacias, bottle brushes and various eucalypt planted along tree lanes, we set out on a seed collecting and tree identification exercise. We numbered the trees with stakes, took photographs and saved seed in numbered paper bags with the intention of identifying them and taking appropriate measures to prepare for seedling planting.
Creating mulch with a view to compost
Wanting to remove some of the lower hanging branches around the mowing area in the yard, as well as remove small saplings in the tennis court to look at planting, I started with an online chainsaw safety course as well as practical instruction from both my dad, Rob Kothe and neighbour Nick Huggins.
As the branches were cut they were piled and then later shredded with my shredder to start a compost pile. It’s amazing how small a pile of material you end up with and I was missing the vital ingredient of manure to make it into a really active compost.
With a cluster of Isa Brown pullets in hand, I set them to work in the enclosed backyard, which, so far, has proven fox-proof, and I have seen a number of foxes around. With their chook house still in the works, the kids and I made them a perch, nesting box and we purchased some self-feeders for laying pellets, grain and water.
The chook house itself was being built, with a lot of assistance from various friends, of recycled furniture crates and bits and pieces from the rubbish dump. The paint was simply what the shop had ‘made a mistake mixing’ and so it ended up being pink. The kids helped to decorate by painting on images of chooks, vegetation and trees, and we pulled apart an old trailer to make it easier to move about.
Now in-situ in the backyard, unfortunately we need to retrain the chooks to roost in their new house rather than in the tree.
With lots of shade and ample water over some of the hottest days on record, we are now harvesting an average of five eggs each day from seven chickens – yippee!! They have nice, bright yellow yolks and they actually taste like eggs, much better even than the store bought ‘organic’ eggs.
My Zone 1 vegetable gardens have continued to take shape over the past few months. We turned the kikuyu grass approximately two metres out from the verandah and layed heavy cardboard on it. With kikuyu still coming through I divided the area into three different experimentation areas:
- Cardboard, compost, hand weeding and more organic material by way of lucerne hay.
- Black plastic fixed down by small concrete bollards from the tip in order to solarise the kikuyu.
- Cardboard, compost, more cardboard and old sheets, towels and clothing material to smother the kikuyu.
I’m looking forward to seeing the results, but hope to be planting out at least some of the area in the new year.
As the year drew to a close, not only did lots of visitors come and stay, but they really helped out along the way. We also made time for a bit of relaxation including front-yard cricket, campfires, swimming and soaking in the spa, welcoming in the New Year by watching a spectacular red moon rise.