The Boring Stuff

I yearn for rain. Where has all the wet stuff gone? Our winter here at White Stone Farm has been very mild.  Our heavy clay soil that usually gets so inundated in winter is barely moist. Every rain shower that we do have brings on a happy dance, with the tap tap tap of rain on the roof mimicked by my tap tap tap of happy feet on the floor boards.

You see, here at White Stone Farm, we have found that we sit in an unfortunate rain shadow.  Clunes doesn’t get much rainfall to begin with.  But up on the plateau, just 5kms out of town, we get even less.  We will watch rain falling on the township and not get a drop as the clouds change direction and part ways before getting to our parched landscape.  Our beautiful view of Mt Beckworth to the south-west, that I absolutely love for its changing colours, diversity of landscape and forested beauty also has the ability to alter the course of the weather on a very local scale.

In the end, we made a big decision to invest in a bore last Summer.  Just before Christmas, we pooled all of the cash that we had from our wedding gifts and instead of spending it on a luxury holiday, white goods or home furnishings, we put it towards an investment in water. I had a few issues with tapping into artesian water.  If too much is drawn up it can cause problems with rising ground water and salinity.  But then we put it in perspective for ourselves.  We’re not the local potato farmers putting in hundreds of bores to draw out gazillions of litres. We aren’t going to be drawing huge megalitres of water from the earth, it’s a little extra assistance to help us keep the water troughs topped up and water some trees. The investment in consistent water as these trees get established will allow us to create microclimates as the trees grow, which will slow the wind and desiccation and enable us to use less water in some areas.  Once the trees are established, they will require less water.  It’s more of a jump start on a property where water is our biggest restriction, particularly when rainfall is low. It will also help to keep a large pond topped up for the local endangered species, the Growling Grass Frog (Litoria raniformis).  We are so fortunate to have these frogs present in this one waterbody on the property, but they need water all year round, so the bore will assist in keeping water in that pond and provide important habitat for our native residents.

Above all, it’s our safety net, for when rainfall is non-existent. We haven’t lived through a drought here yet.  I’m not looking forward to when we do.

So we called in the Murray family – the local bore diggers and they dug and dug and dug. And dug and dug, through layers of clay, bluestone, redstone, yellow, quartz, grey, red-brown and the eons of Earth’s creation were brought to the surface for display.

Murrays Bore drilling truck

Bore through fence

Earth Layer colours

At about 74 metres of digging, they found water. And the dirt became an amazing slurry of gorgeous clay, rock, quartz and water. It looked like melted neapolitan icecream…Bore drilling mudslide

Bore drilling slush

 

Neopolitan mud

It was fascinating watching the process and realising that I was seeing and touching clay and rock that had not seen the light of day for millions of years.

I also considered just how much this sort of mineral rich clay would be if I was at a Day Spa…so I did my own White Stone Farm Day Spa there in the paddock (after the drilling boys had gone home of course!)…

White Stone Farm Day Spa

Although we’ve had issues with the solar pump that we connected and have since had to switch to AC to get the pressure and oomph that we require to get the water from deep underground, we are only using it sparingly and are grateful for every single drop.  Particularly after such a dry winter and hot summer to come.

Hazy shade of Winter

Look around…

Leaves are brown…

There’s a patch of snow on the ground…

Frosty morning at White Stone Farm

Winter has arrived and thankfully some good soaking winter rains arrived with it.   It was a dire time throughout Autumn, with the rains arriving on the very last day.  But then Winter descended and with it those cold mornings that our central highlands of Victoria are renowned for.  Mornings were frosty and it was difficult to get out of bed!  Even the chickens struggled to get out of their Chook Falcon on those chilly days!

Frosty chook falcon at White Stone FarmLlama in puddleBut the nights were good for cosy-ing up next to the fire with a good permaculture book or two!

Leading up to winter and the promise of rain approaching, we realised that we needed to improve the water harvesting and drainage on our property.  Over the last 2 winter seasons here, we have been inundated with rain and bad drainage, creating a swampland across the entire block.  I’m sure the llamas and horse started to get webbed feet!

With our winters so wet and our summers so dry, we needed to be able to channel that resource into catchment areas to decrease their evaporation and increase their usefulness (other than just breeding mosquitoes!).

Last winter, we painstakingly mapped out the slightly-lower-than-very-flat areas on the block (did I mention we’re sitting on a plateau and have very little slope?!) and Stace worked hard digging (mostly by hand) a series of channels and pools to collect and move the water across the block.

Poor drainage at White Stone Farm

Stace digging channels at White Stone FarmThe chickens helped where they could…most of them just hanging around for a tasty worm to be turned over with the next clod of earth.  Most of the time they just got under Stace’s feet…but that’s what happens when you have free range chickens!

With torrential rain finally falling down, we watched with expectation…and discovered that Stace’s hard work creating a system of drainage channels throughout White Stone Farm worked a treat! Hooray!

Winter used to depress me, with our beautiful property becoming a cold, sloshy, swampland…but no longer. I now see it as working with nature and utilising her bountiful resource.  We now have a series of ephemeral pools and can move water slowly through the paddocks and use it more effectively to grow veggies, get water to stock and continue to rejuvenate the landscape.  Our small aquaculture dam beside the greenhouse, which is the main source of water for the greenhouse as it cycles through, ran completely dry over summer and autumn, but is now nearly full to brimming!  Hooray!  Our native fish that nearly perished in the hotter months and had to spend some time in the fish tank in the lounge room are back in their outdoor home finding natural food and (hopefully) growing big and fat!

Greenhouse and aquaculture dam

Winter is such a cosy time, for hot soups, crackling fires and long days of rain to refresh the landscape after a parched dry season.  And now we will get to enjoy all that water long after winter is gone.

Marching into Autumn at White Stone Farm

Phew – a long hot summer is now behind us.  Scorching temperatures, tinder dry landscape, fierce winds and bushfires here, there and everywhere!  The hills and paddocks are a golden yellow of dry grass stalks or (as in the case for some of our paddocks) sun-baked earth as the new grass seeds wait for autumn rains to encourage their new green growth.

The incendiary landscape and strong winds were a real concern some days, with the car packed with valuables and important documents and fire plan at the ready should we need to evacuate.  Luckily it didn’t come to that, but there were some anxious days watching wind direction and hoping that fires burning a few kilometres away wouldn’t come racing over the back fence.  We chose White Stone Farm carefully, ensuring we are not among thick bushland (the tragedies of Black Saturday bushfires here in Victoria were still fresh in our mind when we bought the property in 2011 and served as a good reminder that being engulfed by trees can also lead to being engulfed by flames).  The property backs onto large tracts of open pasture and grassland, although grassfires can also be incredibly fast and destructive.  We kept our eye on this one burning not far away…

Bushfire

The dry spell was broken by a watery reprieve the other week, prompting some new growth to poke its green shoots through the dirt (only to be eaten by hungry chickens!) and the weeds are coming back with a vengeance! Continue reading

Move Hay While the Sun Shines

Here at White Stone Farm we are often presented with challenges.  The hot, dry summers, very wet winters, poor drainage over most of the property, heavy frosts in winter, the house that needs a bit of TLC…but one of the biggest challenges we face is our lack of good topsoil.  The farm is situated on an ancient alluvial floodplain of heavy clay, with some of the oldest soil this Earth has to offer (Ordovician soil, circa 500 million years for those playing at home…).  In winter the clay holds water, in summer it cracks and dries as hard as concrete, the clay shrinking and expanding depending on moisture content.

WSF landscape sunset

Prior to our purchase of the land, the property was also overstocked with horses, creating further compaction of the soil.  It makes for one slippery clay-ridden landscape in the depths of wet winters and is in desperate need of some more organic matter to boost the growing capacity of the land.  Phew…so glad that we like a good challenge!!  On the positive side, clay already has a number of nutrients that we can build on for our soil structure, we just need to improve the drainage and help it along a bit with some more organic matter.  Hey, at least it’s not sand! Continue reading