Lemon tree Libertate!

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!


There is a small dam immediately above the house/studio area which looks lovely when it is full of water and the sun is shimmering off the surface.  It was built before I purchased the property and has one major design flaw – no overflow!  For 18 years, that was no problem, but in 2015 we had a very wet Winter and water just flowed over the front wall of the dam.  Not good.

To resolve this issue AND create a more useful dam, I’m having the dam cleaned out and the front wall rebuilt a metre higher.  We’ll take a spillway out the back and have it overflow into the wild garden where it will water the artichokes.

Step One – empty the dam of water

I borrowed a sump pump from my most excellent friend Richard and got it cranking.  Most of the water was sent out onto the driveway and then gravity took it to the duck pond dam below the house and vegetable garden.

The pre-existing trench beside the driveway had no hope of dealing with the amount the sump pump was generating, so I had to dig it out… about a spade width wide and deep seemed to do the trick.

Here’s the duck pond dam – full to overflowing.  This is our summer vegetable garden water, so it’s great to have it full.

A few days later and the top dam is nearly empty…  plus we found those three big pots that disappeared on a windy night.  With the duck pond full, water is now being pumped to behind the wild garden.

Then we had a big thunderstorm and water flowed into the dam – no problems, that’s what we want, right?  Pump went on again and I think we’re pretty close to done.

Keep an eye out for the dam reworking in a couple of weeks.  We have to let that lovely clay dry out before we get Joe in to work his magic.  Earthworks – all permies love ’em, right?

Berry tunnel refresh

Chiara and Nico have done a power of work weeding the berry tunnel, pruning back rampant berries and finding the path that we all suspected was under the debris!

The bed along the right used to contain raspberries but they died and we’ve removed them.  I might replant with raspberries – even if just to test whether the old ones died of phytophera or not.

Brambles and jostaberries are thriving and loaded with fruit.  Brambles continue for nearly 15 metres now and have had massive fruit set thanks to the nearby bee hive.

Jostaberries; translucent while developing, they eventually turn black like black currants.

Rich volcanic soil that was displaced during some building work on my brother’s farm.  It seemed the brotherly thing to help out by going to collect it – yay!  We’ll spread straw across the new beds, plant a few strawberries, herbs, raspberries and other fun stuff… mostly lower than 1.5 m because this is on the Solar side of the tunnel and we don’t want to block the sun from the berries behind.


Obtain a Yield

Part of attuning oneself to the cycles of the seasons is attending to the human cycles, not just the natural ones.  The daily, weekly & annual cycles cycles of human activity sometimes give rise to predictable opportunities to Obtain a Yield.  One of these in Ballarat comes along each year with our agricultural show; it was held last weekend and one of the outcomes of the Show is the production of large amounts of waste straw.

Perfect for the garden as Spring plantings are going in, or for storage for use throughout the year.  New Irish helper Chloe arrived just in time to help load up in the cattle pavilion.

Once home, the ‘clean’ straw is piled up for use during the year and the well soiled, Nitrogen-rich straw is dumped near the compost heaps, or next to patches of ‘hungry’ plants like artichokes.

There’s nothing magical or fancy about it, but it’s one of the annual rituals that I look forward to.  I’ve been ‘harvesting’ straw from the Show for over 25 years.  Thanks to Chloe for the help, and Stu (at the showgrounds) for loading that last trailer load (a broken round bale) with the tractor!

Time for a shower.  🙂

Mushroom logs

I’ve wanted to have a go at mushroom logs for years – since hearing Rowan Reid talk about growing shitake on Shining gum (Euc. nitens).  It’s taken time, but here we are…. putting some Oyster mushroom spore plugs into elm logs.  The elm was part of a tree taken down in a local street a few weeks ago.  We waited at least three weeks for the natural ‘anti fungal’ chemicals in the wood to dissipate – during that time I ordered the plugs which arrived quickly and sat in the fridge until yesterday.

A tray ute with the sides down makes an excellent workstation for many jobs!  Clara is painting the ends of the logs to seal them (so ‘wild’ fungi doesn’t invade the log).  The old electric fry pan tilted on an angle provides a ready supply of melted beeswax to seal over the plugs, once we’ve popped them into the holes drilled in the logs.

Masking tape wrapped around the correct size bit means you only drill to the depth desired.   The plugs are tapped into the holes then covered with a dollop of melted beeswax.

Holes are about 150 mm apart along the log with rows maybe 60 mm apart – but no one was measuring!

The logs will be stacked off the ground in a shady outdoor space.  Oyster mushrooms take 3 months or more to fruit, so we’ll have to be patient.  Luckily, there’s plenty else to keep us busy as Spring cranks up!