Top dam nearly full!

Just over 18 months since it was cleaned out and expanded, the ‘top’ dam near the house is nearly full. The new dam wall is a metre higher than it was so water is now diverted to a spillway at the south east corner of the dam. IF we have more decent rain in the next few days, I expect the spillway to fill!

Pumping the last water out before earthworks could begin

You can see from the above photo how shallow the dam was. It dried up nearly every Summer due to evaporation. Something needed to be done.

13 tonne excavator still working, with new dam to right

You can see the scale of the excavations when you notice the people on the new dam bank! How deep did we go? It was Dec 2017 so I’m frankly a bit fuzzy, but I reckon it must have been close to 6 metres.

June 2019 and nearly full
water creeping toward the spillway

We’ve had a little more rain since I took that photo so the water is right at the lip of the spillway. The local wood ducks are loving it! Once the water is in the 20m long spillway, I guess I’ll pull on rubber boots and go out with a mattock to fine tune the levels in the spillway. The plan is for the spillway to fill uniformly to a depth of 100 mm then overflow gently to the downhill side.

Semi-automated watering

Over the last few weeks of very hot weather, I’ve been investing in some simple watering equipment – sprinklers, soaker hoses and weeper hoses. I still like hand watering as a great opportunity to Observe & Interact with the plants. If I hadn’t been hand watering a month ago, I might have had a lot of scale attack on my potted apples, but the scale has been wiped out (crushed by hand) as I stood with a hose in the other hand.

However, as the garden expands, the watering becomes more and more time consuming AND you can’t justify the time it would take to really soak an area. With some sprinklers and hoses, you can run water onto an area for an hour or two. The duckpond forest garden has really been loving the extra water. The apples in pots have been treated to an aerial sprinkler for an hour or so each day. Simple set-up – metal sprinkler sitting on a milk crate.

I’ve also laid some soaker hoses in the veggie garden – these guys put out small sprays along their entire length. By reducing pressure (backing the tap off), the sprays become smaller. I tried a few ways of arranging the hose and trying to get the spray right… in the end I’ve settled on putting the hose upside down so the sprays point to the soil.

Soaker hose running in front of tomatoes, behind row of handsome basil plants

This morning, Yang Yang and I worked in the berry tunnel from 7 am until lunchtime. We weeded, pruned Jostaberries and Brambleberries, then lay soaker hose down the length of the raspberry bed (RHS in photos).

Working our way down the ‘tunnel’, weeding and pruning.
Minty kept us company -mostly sleeping in the shade of the jostaberries.
Northern walkway pruned and weeded, ready to run weeper hose along the raspberry bed

We unrolled the weeper hose on the lawn then fed it through the end of the berry tunnel, weaving it between the stalks of the raspberry bushes. It connects directly to a standard 12 mm hose fitting and has a filter to deal with the particulates found in dam water (which is what we use for garden watering).

Weeper hose with water droplets emerging from it. Warranty for 3 years, claimed as UV stable. We will cover with mulch anyway, so that should extend life.
That’s what we’re after!

Seedling tidy up

The Forest Garden weekend course starts on Friday and while thinking about propagation, I decided to have a little tidy up of some of the seedling trees & shrubs I’ve grown. I brought a lot of seed back from the UK last year, from the Agroforestry Research Trust (Martin Crawford) and an online site called Tree Seeds Online (love a name that says what it does, eh?).

Sambucus nigra, Aronia melanocarpa

The Sambucus nigra (European elder) was from TSO. We’ve had elders in Australia since European settlement, but it doesn’t hurt to mix up the gene pool, so these little guys will help do that. I feel an elder-dominated hedge coming on, don’t you. I guess I’ll have to make more cordial each November. Nice. 🙂

Aronia melanocarpa is the North American Black Chokeberry. Seed from the Agroforestry Research Trust. Aronia melanocarpa grows to a couple of metres high & wide and is also a prime hedge plant. It can spread through suckering so a little observation and maintenance is needed there – possibly from a mower! The berries are black when mature and highly astringent (hence the name chokeberry!) so are often used for jams and jellies rather than eating direct. I planted about 24 seeds and have 6 healthy plants – there is definitely an attrition rate when growing from seed, but that does make it all the more satisfying when you get good results.

Hippophae rhamnoides, Amelanchier lamarckii, Cornus mas – plus some stray tomatoes!

Hippophae rhamnoides (front of the LHS box) is commonly called sea buckthorn and is a common coastal plant in northern Europe. I have a couple of very healthy specimens growing near the spoon drain that feeds the top dam. Those came from John Ferris’ Forest Garden Nursery in Melbourne and are cranking along. I’d like to put more in, though, and also having different genetic material can only be a good thing. As well as fabulous bright orange fruit (which grows directly on the branch), sea buckthorn is a Nitrogen fixer from the Elaegnaceae family. The fruit contains high amounts of Vitamins C and E, carotenoids, flavonoids and more Vitamin B12 than any other fruit. So far, I’ve only grown two from seed. They are dioecious (separate male and female plants) but you can’t sex them until they flower, which can take up to 3 years. Fingers crossed for a boy & a girl, right? Meantime, I’ll keep trying to grow more!

The tall guy at the front left of the RHS box is Amelanchier lamarckii – originally from North America but now widely naturalised in Europe. It is one of the more popular members of the diverse Amelanchier family and is variously known as Juneberry, Serviceberry or Shadbush in different parts of North America. Did I mention why using common names is fraught with problems and we should learn a few scientific names so we can be sure we’re all talking about the same thing? A. lamarckii can grow to 5-6 metres in ideal conditions, and can be used as a screening or hedge plant. The berries are black when mature and very sweet. They are usually ripe in June in the US; hence the Juneberry moniker.

The other little guys in the RHS box are Cornus mas – Cornelian Cherry. I bought one from Diggers years ago but it died, so I’m started from seed this time. Cornus mas is widespread across Asia and Europe and grows up to 4 m high. Fruits are astringent on the tree and only fully ripen when they’ve fallen. They taste like a cross between sour cherry and cranberry and are used across Europe for making jams, jellies & liquers. They are also an important Chinese medicine plant.

Want some plant trivia? The wood of C. mas is so dense that it sinks in water! Yep – wood that won’t float. It is therefore great for use in handles, tools, etc and the Greeks preferred it for spears, javelins and bows. Cool. 🙂

Forest Garden prep

The Forest Garden weekend course kicks off next Friday. I consciously postponed the course to January so that I could implement some of the lessons learned with Rowe Morrow last month. Look out for more fun & games and less lecture, people!

I’m excited to be sharing some of the information I’ve gleaned on my own forest garden journey. I remember wrestling with whether to make the trek to Milkwood, Mudgee, to do the 9 day intensive with Dave Jacke in 2013. So glad I did! That started a series of explorations that included going to the ‘States the next year to do a teacher training course with Dave (in Tennessee no less!) and touring various gardens in the US as part of that trip, then going to the UK for six weeks in 2017, which included courses with Martin Crawford and visits to many more gardens.

Chestnut Farm Cottage Garden
Graham Bell’s garden, Coldstream
Martin Crawford’s garden, Devon
Chestnut Farm forest garden planting 2016
Chestnut Farm forest garden late 2018 – still developing but a lot of the key plants thriving

Studio verandah

Check out this set of photos and watch the main verandah structure appear out of nowhere!  … here’s some slices of yesterday and today…

Alan digging post holes

Izzy painting main framing timbers

Post holes dug!

Izzy fixing the main cross beams

Florianne fitting the rafters

meanwhile, making purlins was a cause for celebration!

rafters fitted – while Cherry & Alan work furiously in the background painting the purlins

Florianne fixing the first purlin

Lunchtime today – 3 runs of purlins up

all purlins up – Florianne and Alan cutting off the rafter excess.

At 5 o’clock, it bucketted down and the Weather Bureau is forecasting that we’ll get our average December rainfall in the next 24 hours.  Should be good for the tomatoes and berries but don’t expect any more verandah shots for a couple of days!

Forest Garden course Early Bird extension

Apologies to anyone who has been emailing me this week; I’ve been having problems with my internet and have been ‘off air’ for hours at a time.  Although my provider’s meter shows that my usage for the month is normal (so it wasn’t the students at the teacher training last week chewing up the data!) , I’m unable to get online for big chunks of the day and the signal drops out randomly.  A couple of people have been trying to register in time for the Early Bird deadline for the Forest Garden course in January and I’ve been unable to get back to them as quickly as I’d like.

I’ve therefore decided to extend the Early Bird deadline to December 10.  That should give us plenty of time to sort out whatever’s happening.  If you’ve had a busy November and haven’t got around to registering, why not check it out?  🙂  Start the year with a bang!


Forest Garden course

Permaculture Teacher Training

Last week, Ballarat Permaculture Guild hosted a teacher training led by Permaculture Elder and international wonder woman Rosemary Morrow.  The course was co-taught by another international wonder woman – Brenna Quinlan who showed everyone that her skills are much wider than just in the graphic design area!

Rowe leading morning circle

A fabulous group of people from up and down Eastern Australia gathered, with many camping at Chestnut Farm.  The first day was here, then we shifted to the local Invermay Hall.

The 6 day course was as challenging as it was inspiring, with all students presenting micro-teaching sessions each afternoon.  The complexity of the micro-teaching increased each day and culminated with a 30 minute team teaching presentation on the final day.

Brenna prepping for another session!

Rowe taking a rest on the floor!

Tiny House #5

Insulating and lining the tiny house happened VERY fast – the joy of a small space is that it is quick to do nearly every job!  All the guys were fully into the swing of things and very keen to move it along.

What a brilliant crew – fantastic work guys!

In just a few days, Christoph, Leif, Alex & Scott installed all the insulation and lining – and painted the walls as they went!  I helped a bit, but it was mostly them.  🙂

Tiny House #4

At the end of the last post, we’d started putting external cladding on.  Last week, we had a few days on the tiny house, so lots of progress has been made!  Wendy Marchment dropped in to talk Permaculture Australia Board stuff, but was happy to help out on the build.

Scott & Wendy putting iron on the North wall

Valentina and Andrea made the trek from sunny Melbourne and brought some killer muffins and an amazing cake.  Who cares about the work – the food was fabulous!

Scott, Andrea & Valentina working on the East wall

We had three teams working that day; me on the roof adding a fiddly side section to one end, Leif & Christoph measuring & cutting iron for the West & North walls, and Scott, Andrea & Valentina working on the East wall.

Leif & Christoph

Check out the iron on the lawn in the rear of the photo below: that was Leif & Christoph’s ironclad way of making sure the iron would cover the area around the window on the North wall!

Fun on site

The West wall has no windows or doors and is only 2.4 m long, so went up quickly… so quickly that the trestle plank appears to have been forgotten!

Boys! I told you to put a plank on that!

Andrea did a great job carefully painting the barge boards and touching up the eave linings.

Andrea painting eave & barge boards

I got down off the roof and reworked some lovely old hardwood floorboards to make a frame around the doorway

The next morning, it was just the ‘home’ crew.  The North wall was the final one to be tackled and it was a great feeling to have the building enclosed!

Friday kick off on the North wall

Leif taking irrational pleasure in punching a hole in some iron!

That tricky piece above the window

While the boys worked on the North wall, I collected a load of packing sheets from a local furniture factory and returned with them on the trailer.

Internal lining arrives!

Leif & I cut the first ceiling sheet to size and he started painting it.  Meantime,  Scott cleaned down the roof and Christoph went around the base of each of the walls and screwed the bottom sheet of iron to the bottom plate.

busy bees

This is an attempt to exclude vermin from the Olive House.  It was a job that required attention to detail, so Christoph was just the man!

Christoph getting down

We were all excited about the prospect of starting the lining, so we worked late and got one sheet up!  The eaves were stuffed with insulation and then we packed insulation above the sheet before fixing it.

Ceiling sheet one

It was a super-satisfying two days where we started with a frame and house-wrap and finished with the building externally clad and the internal lining begun.  As always, a huge team effort – but we also saw the benefit of building small… you get SO much done so quickly!

Old tracks into new

Ever wondered what to do with excavator or bobcat tracks when they die?  As with all recycling, the key is to look at the object’s inherent qualities, rather than what it was previously used for.  When a mate offered me a set of used tracks, I initially rejected them.  But then I thought “What are they?”  They are long, tough, heavy, waterproof, strips that are wider than a car tyre and likely to last a lifetime or two… and if you had a soft spot where you’d nearly got bogged, how about setting them into the ground as a permanent driveway?

Guess what?  I’ve got a soft spot at the bottom of my workshop drive which could be perfect for testing the concept!

Setting out the positions of the tracks

Christoph, Lief and Alex took on the task, which involved measuring the distance between the ute wheels to decide on a distance apart for the tracks, digging shallow trenches to put the tracks in, and then doing a little careful infill to align with the heavy rubber ‘lugs’ that engage with the drive sprocket of the machine – this last step to avoid air gaps under the track when it was laid down.

You can see the rubber lugs on the upturned track in the photo above

Alex laying track

Leif confirms the spacing is right!

and here’s the final ‘product’ – a simple, solid base for years to come.

The grass will grow around it, it will settle in and be a great asset.  Much better than throwing the old tracks in the skip; I’m now officially on the look out for another set to extend further up the hill!  🙂