‘Long drop’ loo

Before composting toilets were popular, there was a strong tradition in Australia of long-drop toilets on rural properties.  These are toilets positioned over deep holes; I’ve even heard of them set up over old mine shafts!

You could easily argue that human ‘manure’ is the most expensive fertiliser we produce on the planet, so mixing it with water then running the ‘black’ water through expensive industrial plant seems pretty crazy…  much better to retain it on-site, use natural decomposition to safely process any possible pathogens and retain the nutrients to benefit the local ecosystem.

In preparation for the BPG Permaculture Design Course which started today, we built a new composting toilet, which is positioned over a hole dug by a backhoe fitted  with a 500 mm auger.  The holes are about 1800 mm deep – and I say holes because we dug 6 in a line (more on that later).

We started by building a solid base, working off the foundation of an existing pallet.

Clara and Bri making up the frames

Side walls prefabricated and stacked waiting to be put into place

…and here they are bolted to the base (so the structure can be easily dismantled later if we need to)

Clara and James putting on the roof crossbeams

and then the roof itself.  Notice the heavy pallets on corrugated iron behind the building.  These are covering the other ‘drops’ – as each is filled, the building will move backwards on timber tracks it has been built on.

Here James and Clara are fitting the internal framing that the door will swing on.  Note the insulation paper which is recycled – yes! – from a job at my brother’s place where he wasn’t happy with the install.  Pepper and I rolled up the paper and it was back on a new building within days.  Nearly all of the composting loo is recycled materials.

This old Victorian door was chosen because it is only 710 mm wide (modern doors are 820 mm) and we wanted a narrow door so it wouldn’t ‘stick out’ past the end of the building.  It is also a nice old door which deserves to have a second (or third!) life.

Toilet seat support structures in place – and insulation wrap going around the building

Clara and Bri looking pretty happy about putting the first sheet of iron on!

North side wall iron, with openings for windows ground out

The trim around the windows is Colorbond angle bracing taken off pallets and cut to size.  We used the same angle material around most of the building.

Internal lining sheets started

Clara making lining sections by cutting up chipboard packing sheets from a local furniture factory

Fully clad inside and out so it’s painting time!  Bri paints the inside and Simon paints the outside…

Internal finish – looking gorgeous!  PDC timetable up on the back of the door.

Wouldn’t you like one at your place?

Oh, and the lovely opaque windows are sliding doors from an old kitchen dresser or built-in unit.  1950’s or 60’s I’d guess.  Sanded and repainted by Clara; they let lots of light in while retaining privacy.

Two weeks ago, there was nothing here.  Built almost entirely from salvaged materials, this composting loo is clean, tidy, attractive and smell-free… all important factors in helping people get past the deeply ingrained caution about on-site processing of humanure.

Robert Hart quote

On the train to Melbourne and back yesterday I was re-reading Robert Hart’s 1996 book “Forest Gardening” and here’s a nice reminder from Robert:

“A forest garden is not a static thing, it is a complex living organism which means a developing organism; it changes from year to year, even from day to day.  I would urge anyone who starts a forest garden to adopt a creative attitude towards it; to learn and observe; to study and do research.  Humankind has an enormous amount to learn about plants, above all about their relationships between each other, and the amateur can make as important discoveries by observation and experiment as can the trained scientist with his disciplines and instruments. ”  (p 149)

Observations?  The first forest garden patch here at Chestnut Farm was planted during the Forest Garden Design Intensive with Dave Jacke in 2016.  Within months it was subjected to the wettest Winter in memory, which caused an eruption of fungi to burst out of the cardboard we’d used to sheet mulch – smothering many of the tubestock seedlings.  The expensive Australian native groundcovers hated the enriched soil we used around the fruit trees, but exotic grasses loved it and invaded happily.   One rare plant was repeatedly browsed by possums until it succumbed and returned no more. Whoops!

Some of our hardier plantings, including sea kale, dwarf comfrey, black currants, rhubarb, balm of gilead, lemon balm and various alliums all survived.  Once the grass was removed last month, it was relief to see the bare bones of a forest garden remained!

Experiments?  Keeping in mind Martin Crawford’s entreaty that the ground cover layer is the most important, we wanted to get stuff growing in the gaps between the surviving plants, so have planted different seedlings we have right now: particularly amaranth and Daubenton’s kale.  I confess it might be better to have a little more discipline with our experiments, so we’re chasing some more of the groundcovers and we’re even going to try some of those Nitrogen-fixing Aussie natives again!

Dam rebuild day one

7 am this morning, the topsoil stripping began.

then lots happened and here we are mid afternoon…. a small hole in the front yard turning into a huge hole in the front yard!  Check it out below for a bit of the action!

dam rebuild movie 1

Dam fine work

From Dec 27 – 29 (next week) the top dam is being reworked – you saw the photos of it being pumped out, but now the real work gets underway.  Jo dropped the excavator off and it is an imposing beast!  We’ll be digging out the dam to deepen it, building a new front wall, spillway & overflow path.  If any one (especially BPG PDC graduates) is interested in coming out to see some earthworks  they are very welcome to drop by.

Not to be involved in the work but just to see the process.  If you’re not sure about levels and contours, here’s a practical application to observe.  No work involved – just watching.  You might need to keep your distance to ensure safety, etc.  but with a 13 tonne excavator it is pretty easy to see what’s happening – even from a distance.

Email steve@chestnutfarm.net.au if you’d like to drop by to see what’s happening.  We’ll be busy each day from 7 am onwards.  🙂

Lemon tree Libertate!

Yes!
Let’s free the lemon tree from the clutches of the lip-smackingly tasty but rather vigorous bramble that has invaded its patch!

Romy came to visit for a few days; she’d been staying on another farm but wanted to see a few different properties before heading to New Zealand and then back to Austria.  Here, she and Moritz have cleared the brambles and most of the bed and are digging out some dock roots.

We left the lemon balm clump on the nearside edge of the bed as we are experimenting with keeping stands of perennial herbs throughout the vegetable garden.

Once the bed was cleared, Moritz dug it over, we watered it thoroughly and covered it with a layer of straw mulch.

Around the base of the lemon tree, we mulched with stones.  Stones retain heat and make it harder for little weeds to establish themselves.  Maybe boys weeing on the lemon tree can also make up games about hitting specific stones in sequence? (anything to encourage them to leave free Nitrogen behind!)

 

 

Checking the bees

Does anyone else find that they have an urge to tidy the house when they know friends are coming over?  I had a bit of that yesterday as I knew some beekeepers were coming in the evening….  so I thought I better have a look at my hive and see how it is going.

Good news was that there are no signs of disease, the bees remain super placid (somewhat rare in a hive taken from a swarm), there is a good mix of brood and honey in the lower super and there is loads of honey in the middle super… plus lots of drawn comb up top which I’m expecting them to fill with honey over the next few months.

As well as all the vegetables, berries, comfrey and nearby eucalypts in flower, there is also a large amount of Bursaria spinosa (aka sweet bursaria or butterfly bush) flowering on a hillside a couple of kilometres away.  It makes a very tasty honey which is also reputed to have an unusual quality – it glows in the dark!

How about that for a frame of busy bees!  They are totally focussed on their work and didn’t trouble the three people standing nearby.  Best days to check a hive a fine sunny days without wind and we had exactly the right conditions.  I shuffled a few frames to encourage the bees to fill some of the empty comb, and then we left them to it.  Keep at it, girls; we love your work!

 

 

 

Max’s wood pile on the move

Back in January, we cut down a huge eucalypt – part of the long-term preparation for renewing the dam and fencing the paddock to put some sheep in.  Several WWOOFers worked hard splitting & stacking wood, but Max did seem to be the most enthusiastic and was very happy when it was finished.

chestnut farm WWOOFer firewood pile

Last week, after the wood had been out in sun & rain for nearly 11 months, we decided it was dry enough to move to the wood shed, where it can bake over summer and will be ready to keep us warm next winter.

Here are Moritz and Chloe loading up the ute, which works very well as a motorised wheelbarrow.

Once at the woodshed, the load can be put into wheelbarrows directly from the tray, or dumped… gotta love that tipper function!

Here’s Moritz unloading and trying not to be self-conscious about being photographed… either that or he’s remembering some funny story he heard last night.

and, of course, we all love a few shots of a fine wood stack – great work by Chloe & Moritz in fitting the whole of that huge outdoor pile into the shed.  I didn’t think it would go, but they stacked the shed to the gunwales!

Busy times!

We’ve had a great few helpers recently, so lot’s has been getting done…

Chloe has enjoyed using pallet timber to cover insulation paper where the verandah meets the studio walls.

A little ‘finishing’ job that can hang around for years on owner-built properties, so much appreciate your work, Chloe!

Jon dropped 3 truckloads of rough mulch/compostable material – it’s a crazy mix of soil, tree roots, mulched gorse, blackberry & other muck from a site he’s been working on.

Looks perfect as mulch on which to build a forest garden – or you could just call it an instant hugelkulture!  We’ll definitely use some of it on a mini forest garden we’re planning down the driveway.

Meantime, Romy & Moritz blitzed the blackberries around the wood heap:

and the comfrey around the apple tree in the cubby garden is going crazy…

… as are the bramble berries.  We had our first desserts of brambles and ice cream just a few days ago!

Berry tunnel update

A few days ago I posted about the great work Nico & Chiara did weeding the berry tunnel and adding some fresh volcanic soil to the beds.  After retrieving all those raspberries from a friend’s patch mid-week, we decided to plant all the vacant space in the berry tunnel with raspberries.  There is a risk that half the length of the Northern bed has phytophera root rot; I suspect this because of the way the old raspberries died and because I have been to a friend’s berry farm that had phytophera (which is notorious for finding devious ways to move from farm to farm via wet boots, equipment, etc).  (You can find good Australian information on phytophera here)

Before planting, we watered the beds and covered them with straw.

It’s easier to plant through straw then to arrange straw around the little plants later.

Don’t they look happy!

Nico also boldly tackled the berry bed along the dam fence and weeded it thoroughly for the first time in a few years.  We then added Andy’s soil, topped with straw and planted more raspberries.  I’m looking forward to a cracker raspberry season in Autumn!

The larger berry plants already in the bed are Logan berries, with the odd Tayberry thrown in for good measure.

 

Berry go round

A few years ago I give some raspberry plants to a friend to help set up their berry patch.  The raspberries (an old Autumn fruiting variety given to me by a friend from Daylesford) thrived and exploded from her patch, so Nico and I went on an expedition to dig up and rehome the escapees.

Once we’d dug them up, we popped them into a bucket half full of water, so the roots were kept moist.

An hour of work and the citrus trees had their spot to themselves and the raspberries were ready for replanting at home.

No, I didn’t deliberately blur Nico’s face to protect his identity – just splashed some water drops on the camera when watering the raspberries!