Winter weather conditions remain sub-optimal for wombats
– which roughly translates into continuing wet weather with even a brief snow shower.
That doesn’t mean that work stops at the farm here, even if the excavations for the new water tanks have had to be abandoned for the time being.
In the past few days the chicken enclosure had about 0.5 cubic metre (17.6 cubic feet) of deep litter removed. This material was then spread about the orchard. After that material was spread, a similar amount of clean composted woody mulch was placed into the chicken enclosure for the chooks to scratch around in.
For those that know their soil stuff: composted woody mulch is high in carbon; and chicken manure is very high in nitrogen and phosphate. Add the two materials together, get the chickens to turn it over for a few weeks and you have a soil that you could grow almost anything in. The added benefit to this system is that any grains that were uneaten by the chickens produce edible sprouts both before and after removal from the chicken enclosure. Wheat, Oats and Lucerne can turn up growing in the most unexpected locations in the orchard!
The chicken enclosure and hen house were built many years ago and I made a bit of an error in the process. The error is that the chicken enclosure was built uphill of the hen house, when it should have been the other way around. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem, but the chickens scratch in the deep litter in their enclosure and in that process move the material downhill towards the hen house. I then have to regularly move the deep litter material back uphill and away from the hen house. It does aerate that material though.
I know when to remove the deep litter material from the chicken enclosure when it starts to look a bit sludgy and/or may also possibly produce a smell. Your nose is the best guide as to when to clean the chicken enclosure. Generally the hen house and the enclosure here have a reasonably neutral smell.
The dry used bedding for the chickens is spread onto the concrete floor of the hen house during the winter months and it gives the chooks something to scratch around in on cold wet, windy days when they’d prefer to be inside their hen house rather than outside in the enclosure.
Last week I scored some - get these plants out of our sight – cheap strawberry runners and a new variety of hazelnut shrub. The remaining 0.5 cubic metre (17.6 cubic feet) of composted woody mulch brought onto the farm that wasn’t used in the chicken enclosure was used to establish the new strawberry bed and provide food for the hazelnut shrub. Generally I plant new trees directly into composted woody mulch mixed with the local clay/volcanic loam and it has worked well here for many years.
Speaking of trees, spring has arrived early here. You’ll notice that in the photo of the hazelnut shrub, there are green shoots with new leaves. This is about 3 to 6 weeks early and I can only put this down to the warm winter days and nights. Other plants are also indicating an early spring too and this photo is of a plum of the santa rosa variety:
I have no idea what this means for future seasons, but people I speak with further north than here are experiencing rainfall of up to half their normal average. (Remember that in the southern hemisphere heading north is the equivalent of heading south in the northern hemisphere).
This afternoon, I undertook a bit of a research field trip to find the biggest farm dam (pond) in the area that does not hold water. The results are in, and this photo tells an interesting story about water storage here:
It is an impressive bit of engineering, but it doesn't hold water. A local earth moving guy that worked during construction of the house here told me that he wouldn’t take my money to build a dam (pond) at this location because the soil did not hold water above the ground level. It was good advice and he was correct.
Yet where does all of the rainfall here go? The simple answer is that it ends up in the ground water table at this elevation in the mountain range, only to reappear on the elevated plains below much later as a running creek which drains into the local river.
Water does not flow through the ground quickly at all and it may take several years for water in the soil to move from one location to a distant area. Also, all trees require water in order to survive periods of drought, so the trick in these sorts of locations (and with most natural grasslands and forests) is to store as much rainwater in the ground water table as possible. Setting up systems on your farm to achieve this outcome is the simplest way to drought proof a farm.
I may have mentioned before that I do not (or try not to) till the soil here. The reason for this is that the farm is located on the side of a hill and tilled soil tends to run downhill with the water during heavy rainfall. The root systems of the vegetation slow this erosion process. Also the other problem is that the sun here tends to kill the soil life where it has no plant material (dead or otherwise) to protect it from that solar radiation.
When there is exposed or compacted (i.e. squashed) soil here, rainfall tends to run across it on the surface, whilst everywhere else rainfall infiltrates the soil. A good example of compacted soil here is a road. Rainfall will collect on the road and run along its surface.
Say, you have 400m (437 yards) of road which is uphill of your farm. That road may also be about 5m (5.5 yards) wide. That equals a rainfall catchment area of 400m x 5m = 2,000 square metres (2,187 square yards). If you wanted, you could direct all of that rainfall catchment onto your farm. So for every 1mm (1/25 inch) of rainfall you could potentially collect 2,000 litres of water (528.3 gallons). Imagine how that quickly multiplies for every additional mm or inch of rain received!
So how do you get all of that running water into the ground water table for later use over the summer? The answer is provided by the permaculturalists who are always banging on about swales.
A swale is simply a leaky dam (pond) or drainage channel. Yes, it is that simple. Put water into a leaky dam and it will slowly infiltrate into the ground water table. Given that once the water is in the ground water table it only moves very slowly across the landscape, it will hopefully be available for your more established deep rooted plants during the summer. Other than that, it will ensure that the ground water table that you use for your well is not being depleted through over extraction. This is exactly how a swamp works. It collects ground water and then recharges the ground water table.
The swale here which collects water from the road, delivers it under my driveway via a large concrete pipe. It then infiltrates all of that water into the ground at the very top of the orchard. The swale looks like this:
It is most unimpressive engineering, but simply works. As a fun fact, baby wombat uses that large pipe as a wombat highway and I often seen her climbing down into it at night.
Swales can also collect the rainfall from the internal farm roads, paths which are usually compacted and also any overflows from the household storage tanks too (they overflow when they are full):
Many people believe that swales have to be major earthworks, but this is incorrect. They can be as simple as a large pit of mulch which you direct water into. I have one of these next to the citrus trees and it ensures that I never have to water them, regardless of the heat or lack of rainfall:
Next week, I’ll include the farm plan and you will be able to get a feel for where these different systems are installed.
In breaking egg news (sorry, bad joke alert!) the chooks laid 4 eggs today!
Also, I captured a photo the other night of Fatso the house wombat cruising the herbage. Enjoy!
The temperature outside here at about 8pm is 3.5 degrees Celsius (38.3 F) and so far this year there has been 495.4mm (19.5 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 474.6mm (18.7 inches).