Let’s face it; it is really unpleasant excavating clay in the rain when it is only a couple of degrees above freezing, so I gave it a miss this week
On the other hand the wind died off so I was able to haul, cut and split the fallen tree into useful chunks of firewood. You have to wait until the wind dies down because otherwise chunks of tree fall down and may possibly hit you in the head.
Some of that new firewood is burning in the wood box at the moment and that heat is also being put to good use baking some banana muffins. Not only are the dogs currently cooking themselves on the hearth, but the house smells of fresh banana muffins too. Thanks, fallen tree!
It was a bit of a slack tide this week however, the mixed flower, herb and vegetable garden received an extra 1m3 (35.3 cubic feet) of mulch and compost.
Over the past few years I’ve been trialling various plants so as to test their overall hardiness in these conditions in all seasons. Last summer was a real shocker with 10 days above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) and three of those were in a row with a peak of 44.5 degrees Celsius (112.1 F).
Now that I’ve started to get a feel for what plants are working here and what aren’t, I’ve increased the area of those test beds. Since last summer, there are now steps, access paths, taps for water, rock retaining walls and deep mulch.
It is a great system because those plants provide flowers for the insects, habitat for the frogs and reptiles, food for me, shade for the soil and shelter for the smaller birds which eat the predatory bugs off the main food crops. It is amazing how a small family of blue wrens can decimate the cabbage moth population. It is a complex system and gets more complex every year as the diversity of plants increases over time. Plus it just looks and smells nice.
I’ve had a few requests to talk about water systems at the farm here. Water is a complex topic Down Under, so I’ve thought about it and decided to talk about the subject by telling a story and then over the following weeks talk about what I do here to adapt to the extreme local conditions. It is an important story, because there is no back-up plan here and if I run out of water, there are just no easy options. It is the future for all that exist on water sourced from somewhere else, using energy also sourced from elsewhere.
Australia is an old land mass. The funny thing about old land is that they tend to contain gold on or under the surface in various spots. People like gold, heck I could seriously use a chunk or two of gold! So when it was discovered here in this corner of the planet in 1850, people came from all over the world to try their luck on the goldfields and hopefully get rich.
Melbourne became the second wealthiest city in the British Empire (after London) for quite a period of time until about the 1890’s and things were rocking along really nicely during that time. It was an amazing achievement given the colony was only founded in 1834.
Whilst some people made heaps of mad cash on the goldfields (and some still do today) many more people soon exhausted their resources and had to return to their previous trades.
In a weird twist of fate, some of those impoverished gold miners came from Oregon in the US were they’d previously worked as timber getters. As they passed back to Melbourne from the goldfields, they saw a different form of gold in the Macedon Ranges and adjoining Wombat forest. The gold they saw there were trees. Big trees. Really, really big trees. It is no exaggeration to say that they would have been amongst the tallest trees on the planet. It would have been amazing to have seen the forests in those days.
So given it was close to a steam train line between the goldfields and Melbourne, those canny Oregon timber getters established timber mills and timber tramways through the forest here and named this side of the mountain range “Cherokee” after the Sioux Indian forests of the US with which they felt there were remarkable similarities.
The township was surveyed; a post office and even a primary school were built and occupied. The late Victorian era of the 1890’s even built health resorts high up in the clean mountain air to escape the summer heat and the very real fear of cholera and typhoid.
Yet the town was eventually abandoned.
By the aftermath of World War II, the history books state that for a decade or so there was only a single person up on this side of the mountain range. It is important to note that the area had been used to grow potatoes and berries for many decades prior to this.
The question should be asked in this circumstance is: why was the area abandoned?
There are many answers to this question, but the one that strikes me as being the most plausible is after many years of personal experience is: lack of water during summer.
Anecdotal evidence from the documented accounts of the early explorers and settlers also indicate that the Aboriginals only inhabited this area during seasons other than summer.
The mountain range rises up out of an elevated plain so it is a watershed for the surrounding area. So where did all that rainfall go? The simple answer is that all of that rain didn’t disappear; it just went into the ground water only to turn up elsewhere down below.
Here is a photo of a beautiful creek which runs through my property. There are ferns, moss and broad leaf musk daisy bushes (nitrogen fixing under story trees), even a rock water fall. But, no water. This creek is actually is quite close to my house:
A lot of people in the US have wells (we call them water bores) to access drinking water. In Australia, these are a problematic system because they have to be drilled very deeply and they are often brackish (i.e. they contain some salt). These two issues alone mean that they are not a popular option because it requires a huge amount of energy to pump the water up from the depths and possibly to also desalinate that water (i.e. remove the salt).
A neighbour has a water bore (water well) and he told me that during the drought of 2009, the system was only able to provide water for 7 minutes before running dry. This means that in a boom and bust environment like Australia, the water table can vary greatly in height below the ground.
The trees up this way have adapted to those conditions by growing a massive tap root. They don’t have a problem as they rise high above the under story canopy and grow tall and dead straight. They would appear to have access to lots of water all year around.
At a lower elevation in the mountain range on a less steep site, the water runs for most of the year above ground. So this tells me that land at higher elevation acts like a sponge, yet land at lower elevation which is also flatter, tends to leak water across the landscape.
It also means that the trees in this lower, flatter area of the mountain range also don’t need the tap roots required to access water all year round. The reason for this is that there is plenty of water close to the surface, so their root systems can spread outwards rather than downwards. You’d also expect that those trees would be wider and shorter.
There is one disadvantage for those trees which don’t have a massive tap root. They tend to fall over in high winds (roots and all).
So now, you know these things you can start to look at the vegetation differently in your area and let nature tell you the story about ground water in that location. At the very least it will hopefully save you a lot of digging!
Next week, I’ll start to discuss how water is collected at the farm.
I’ll leave the story of my friends the magpies and wombats to another week, but will leave you with a photo of the entrance to a wombat home on the farm.
July is generally colder than June and right now outside at 9pm it is 5.1 degrees Celsius (41.2 F) and the rainfall for the year has been 474.6mm (18.7 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 440.8mm (17.4 inches).