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Wacky weather Down Under and farm update  RSS feed

 
Chris McLeod
Posts: 59
Location: Cherokee, Victoria, Australia
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Hi everyone,

Just in case anyones forgotten about us permies Down Under, I just thought that I might remind people that it is only a few weeks out from the official start of winter. But, you wouldn't know it here. All year we've been breaking weather records and now just out of winter yet another couple are being broken:

Hobart (in Tasmania) at the bottom of the very large island off the bottom of the continent just had it's warmest late Autumn day in over 100 years of records: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/warm-autumn-day-in-hobart-sets-100-year-record/58581

Sydney (the largest capital on the continent) has just experienced the hottest late Autumn week in 150 years of records: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/record-late-autumn-warmth-for-sydney/59759

Melbourne (the second largest city on the continent and near where the farm is) had unseasonable late autumn minimum temperatures with a night that exceeded the average long term maximum temperature for the month: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/doona-free-nights-in-melbourne-as-winter-nears/60454

All temperatures are in Celsius so you'll have to convert them to Fahrenheit.

If anyone is interested, I also have a farm update posted at the Permaculture news website here: http://permaculturenews.org/2014/05/15/fernglade-farm-autumn-update-may-2014-victoria-australia/

I appreciate any and all comments and observations.

Cheers. Chris
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 94
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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Hi Chris, I have a place in tassie and I currently live in Canberra (defence family). After being posted around Australia and living with droughts and bush fires, I researched 100 years of weather, plus the CSIRO government climate change reports and deliberately chose a place in Tasmania (Tassie for short) . I wanted a guaranteed water supply that was year round and a climate that could cope with the changes. The seas around the east coast of tassie have already increased by 2 deg C which is affecting fish stock, plus the increased temputures are affecting fruiting trees and the fruit is beginning to fail to set, so now we need to plant less cold tolerant varieties. We will be retiring there so we tried to "climate" proof our future. Hopefully we made the right call. Canberra is seriously dry and I am having to water every other day to. Keep my cabbages etc going.... These changes do not bode well for the future and it looks like my research was correct. very useful info Chris re the fruit trees and borage and comfrey.. Thanks Giselle
 
Chris McLeod
Posts: 59
Location: Cherokee, Victoria, Australia
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Hi Giselle. It's great to hear from another permie Down Under as you know what I mean about the crazy weather here.

Canberra is dry for sure. Hope you enjoy Tassie too. I spent a month there about a decade ago and really enjoyed the island. It is an amazing place. The east coast can be dry in some parts, but then really unbelievably wet in other parts like Mt Elephant. I read a few weeks back they received 248mm of rain in 24 hours there. I've experienced that over 5 days and it was seriously flooding in the valley down below here. The west coast of the island can receive over 3 metres of rain per year and I noticed last summer that even Strahan got to 38 degrees Celsius one day over summer!

I've read that in some parts of South Australia they also failed last season to get enough chilling hours (less than 7 degrees Celsius) for the fruit trees to set fruit properly. Some fruit trees require hundreds of chilling hours per winter, whilst others not so much. They also adapt to local conditions over time too. I reckon you'll be OK for that in Tasmania. The farm here is at about 700m above sea level so the climate is pretty similar to southern Tasmania, but the difference is getting less noticeable over summer as time goes on. The changes are not good at all.

On a positive note, you should be able to grow a wide variety of fruit trees on the east coast. There are some really good heritage fruit tree nurseries in Tasmania too and years back I spent a fun hour or two speaking with Bob Magnus at Woodbridge Nursery which is just south of Hobart: http://www.woodbridgefruittrees.com.au/wft/ They actually had the complete Australian collection of quince trees at one stage.

Thanks about the boarge and comfrey and just plant a couple of them for each fruit tree.

Cheers. Chris
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 94
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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Hi Chris, I suppose my biggest fear is bush fires. Tasmania has always been wet, but the local real estate agents attitude to risk when we were checking out properties was scary, and very naive, did no one learn anything after the Victorian Bushfire Disasters. With a warming drier climate the risks are there in Tasmania as seen last year with Dunalley. I am sorry to hear about the numbskull idiot that was lighting fires deliberately round you.

Thanks for the info re the trees, it's good to have a recommendation. I have heard of them. Do you know anyone around Launceston way.. We are at the top end. I am also planning a nut wood and truffles, Something I have always fancied. Hubby wants pigs .. With extra flavouring.

I am stunned at the amount of fruit trees you have... WHY? What's the long term plan for your place. I can see you use woofers too.. Great organisation I have finally convinced friends of mine to move to the dark side and try organic farming (they run a traditional cattle and goat farm near Canberra) the key was using Wwoofers. And surprise surprise these young people are educating these 60 year old very traditional Aussies. Lol.

On on separate note, I am trying with great success hugelculture in raised beds, the lack of water here and the non existent soil, these techniques are working beautifully. I plan to use hugleculture Swales in tassie as the soil is sand and water just runs off. We may get plenty of rain, but not in spring or autumn.. It can be extremely dry for 3 months straight.
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 94
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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Chris I have just watched your video.. Nice place .. And very nice soil.. Question, how do you stop the wildlife eating the fruit trees as not all are fenced. Ta Giselle
 
Chris McLeod
Posts: 59
Location: Cherokee, Victoria, Australia
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Hi Giselle. Thanks for the nice comments about the soil and farm here. The top soil is about 20cm deep in some parts and probably averages about 15cm across the farm. When I bought the block 7 years ago, there was no top soil at all and rainfall used to literally run over the sun-baked clay which was as hard as concrete. Digging holes for the original fruit trees was a seriously hard task.

Not to scare you, but I reckon that I've probably brought onto the farm about 450 cubic metres of woody mulch, compost and rock dust during those years (mostly woody mulch). It sounds like a lot, but is actually only about 1 or 2 cubic metres per week and it all disappears into the top soil. Most of it is sourced from composted green waste collected by the councils from gardens in Melbourne. The deeper the top soil, the more water that your soil holds. It was all moved by hand too. A cubic metre just doesn't go very far.

Launceston has a great climate and you will find that you can grow pretty much the same sorts of plants that I grow here. If the cold air drains away from your property during winter and also assuming you are not in the bottom of a valley, then you will easily grow sub tropical fruit trees such as citrus and loquats. I'm experimenting with coffee shrubs, tea camellias, babaco, white sapote, macadamia nuts and plenty of other plants that are supposed to not grow here. I'm sorry, but I don't know of any suppliers of heritage plants around that northern area though. Have you thought about http://www.diggers.com.au/ (I'm a member and they provide great plants) as well as Strezlecki heritage apples? I recommend both suppliers. The lovely lady at Strezlecki heritage apple trees actually grafted up trees for me on the spot on very vigorous root stocks and those trees have been exceptional performers. The lady williams apple in the video was from that supplier.

As to the wildlife, the wombats, wallabies and kangaroos all have free access to the farm here. They convert the grass and herbage into manure, saving me the problem of mowing. Mowing is a once a year activity in December as a result (they can't keep up with the growth). The wallabies are the serious problem here as they will break young fruit trees. Those young fruit trees are all individually caged in a heavy gauge chicken wire (1.4mm). Once the trees are about 3m tall with a fairly large trunk, the wallabies can't seem to damage them, so I take off the cages at that point in time and they prune all of the lower branches keeping the walkways clear. It is a trial and error system which works more often than not. It has just taken a long time to understand all of the different interactions between the animals and work out how to get an advantage from that knowledge.

Bushfires are part of life. It is possible to reduce your properties risk, it is just a lot of hard work and there are a lot of competing viewpoints some of them have legal backing. I volunteered in the CFA (Country Fire Authority) for a few years so have seen all sorts of viewpoints on the subject, but tested by the realities of the local ecology. I try to observe what works and what doesn't work and then concentrate efforts on what does work. The CSIRO studies into the fires here during Ash Wednesday in 1983, indicated that a fires burnt particularly hot when the soils and vegetation were lacking in minerals. I bring in rock dust and spread it around as well as planting species that mine the soils for minerals (eg comfrey and borage)

So many great questions. I have a lot of different fruit trees because the climate can vary so much between each season. It is part of hedging my bets, in that I'm guaranteed to get some produce out of some of the fruit trees. Different seasons produce different outcomes. Very wet seasons promote citrus growth, but are hard on stone fruit for example. Pears, seem to be consistent from year to year, but different varieties of apples produce differently from year to year and so on.

No, I do not have woofers here. All of the work including building the house from scratch was done by myself and my lady. I occasionally open the farm up for a visit by some local groups that I'm involved with.

With the changing environment, we all have to keep an open mind on things. Who would have thought that coffee could grow here for example? By the way: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/melbourne-warms-into-record-books/62503

Hugelculture is a great idea, well done with your experiments. The trick here was starting the system in autumn so that the fungus can get to work in time and the plants roots can also establish before the summer. Other than that watering is a good idea during the hot and dry spells. Spring is probably a bit late unless you have access to water the system over summer?

Tassie is a beautiful place and well located to survive any future warming.
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 94
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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Hi Chris, good idea re the fruit trees, I had not considered fluctuations in varieties.

We are lucky that we have 73 acres and of that 25 acres are cleared paddocks with 30cm plus of really good soil with sand then clay... Which causes surface flooding. If we break the clay pan without careful management then we will lose any water storage in the ground... Hence hugleculture, Swales etc. I have already negotiated with the local council to collect seaweed from the local beach .. We are 5-70m from sea and river level ... as our nutrient levels are terrible. I need to be careful as I could pollute the waterways. So I am going to try making my own sprays of microbactium to inoculate the soil in the 5 acre area around the house for food, nut wood and fruit trees etc. we will also have 2-3 small cows as they will do the least damage to the soil and provide a meat source...as well as dollars to pay the rates. Oh and of course chooks and a couple of pigs to grow and kill... Hubby likes pigs and I love cooking.

We are also lucky that our neighbours have horses.. So composting will be easy combined with the above. One 10 acre paddock of the 25 acre cleared fenced farming land Is a dedicated hay paddock and has been for years so we intend to barter what we don't need. Ie the neighbour with the horses also makes cheese and honey... Yumm. The other 38 acres is lightly wooded plus lush grass.. so a great source of firewood and great for cows oh and we have a 2 1/2 acre freshwater lake.

My biggest focus is restoring the biodiversity of the grass in the fenced paddocks as the previous owners horses have decimated it and created a monoculture.. Shudder. I am intending to introduce species to restore nutrients naturally. Unfortunately we also have 5km of re fencing to repair.. So lots of work ahead.

We are not a 'farm' as this is not our only source of income. This is bigger than we need but the price was too good to refuse. It was cheaper to buy big than small. So we intend to rent out some of the extra land at a very good price to help encourage local young farmers get a basic foothold/ income whilst insisting on organic / permaculture practices to help educate the future and improve our land in the process. Fortunately we are near a large town/Hub so access is not an issue either.

I am impressed with what you have done with your place.. You have seriously improved it, and it shows. And I love your thinking of warmer plants like coffee as alternatives... you should seriously consider Wwoofers apart from the fact that The cider would be a huge hit they can also help with food prep and storage. .. Have you thought of having a root cellar, you are high enough to be worth it.. You can build it into the hill... And they could build it. I have met a few Woofers from the cities who are looking for a week or two week break from work, who want to sleep under the stars and work hard. All you have to do is feed and educate them. I will be using them for the usual work on the farm and specific projects.. Ie weed identification for restoring the paddocks/ fencing/ wood cutting etc
 
Chris McLeod
Posts: 59
Location: Cherokee, Victoria, Australia
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Hi Giselle. No worries. The diversity in the fruit trees really does make a more overall reliable yield from year to year.

25 acres is a good amount for grazing. I have 22 here, but only about 4 to 5 are clear.

Your soil sounds like a complex mix of different materials. Lots of organic matter always helps sand (and / or clay) become more like a fertile loam. A local earthworks / excavator person may give really good advice if you are thinking about getting someone in to dig the swales. Don't put up with any rubbish from them though. The local guy who'd been working in the area for over 30 years here told me that the soil here would never hold a dam and it wasn't worth spending the money on it. After that I started looking around the area and sure enough he was spot on. All of the dams here work like swales! Still, people keep putting them in and they are just empty. Local knowledge is really important. A neighbour even brought in truck loads of bentonite clay to line their dam and the yabbies dug holes in the clay - and then it leaked... Still, the guy thought swales were a nutty idea, but he dug it properly on contour anyway.

Sounds like it will be quite the menagerie of animals at your place! I'm told that Dexter cattle are small, hardy and easy to work with - but have no first hand experience. A lot of people up this way have dorper sheep which are good because they moult rather than having to be sheared. Alpacas require a bit of toe, clipping and teeth (I think) maintenance but seem pretty hardy. They run pigs locally on the Joel Salatin method at Taranaki farm which is not too far from here.

You can buy truffle innoculated oak trees too. I think the fungus requires a more basic soil ph though than the property here which is acidic. With your sand you may just have that higher ph?

Neighbours with horses are great because you can trade manure (and maybe with some soiled bedding straw if they have a stable) for vegetables. It is a good swap. Get as much as you get your hands on. Horses won't graze where they goto the toilet so it requires constant maintenance or lots of paddocks to rotate the animals to.

How good does the lake sound. Well done on that purchase. Cattle require a reliable source of water over summer and with that much water...

Biodiversity in the grass is a good goal. Peter Andrews in his book "Back from the Brink" was describing the benefits of diverse pasturage for horses and cattle. The diversity will establish itself over time, once you reduce grazing pressures (and possibly spraying). I reckon there are about 60 varieties of plants in the herbage here. The animals love it and the place here is about the last place to turn from green to yellow every summer.

You are very lucky that your neighbour keeps bees as that will assist fruit set in your own plants. Good stuff.
 
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