Stop! Hammock Time!

I’m a Planner.  I love to write To Do lists, make plans, set goals and tick things off those lists.  That feeling of accomplishment, of Getting Stuff Done.  Like many Planners, sometimes I think I like the planning and writing To Do lists more than I actually like doing the stuff on them!

But I’m also a Do-er. I like to be busy too.  Too busy, many of my friends and family would say. Following my redundancy from the environmental sector in 2013, the new time and space that was freed up allowed me to follow my passions here at White Stone Farm. To create my SAORI weaving studio and teaching business, Dyeing To Weave.  To immerse myself in permaculture and the workings of the farm here, attending to the chickens, llamas, cooking, learning and spending lots of time truly deciding what it was that I wanted to do. There are so many things that I am passionate about doing – sometimes the hardest part is working out where to put my energy at any given time!  And sometimes, I just try to do it all at once.

With a million things that I am constantly doing, a myriad of different commitments, business ideas and success as I head in a soul-driven direction for my businesses, it’s important to not only plan for what I want to do and achieve…but to also plan for Doing Nothing.  When running a small business, it’s vital that you take some time out just for YOU. Too many times I have pushed and pushed, to wring every moment out of the day and then fallen in a heap at the end.

Recently, I’ve been working with Leonie Dawson’s beautiful Biz & Life Workbooks. I first used them last year and they were wonderful to help me clarify what I was going to achieve over the year and how I was going to do it. Plus they’re fun to use! They have been fantastic to help me set goals, recognise achievements and plan for the goodness that I will create in 2016.

Leonie Dawson workbook graphics

The year goes SO FAST, so I want to make sure that I am using all of my time available effectively, with balance and efficiency. But one of the important parts of planning is to plan for rest, relaxation, reward and recuperation. So when Stace built our fantastic front patio in December, it became a bit of a sacred space.  The shaded, breezy environment is perfect for taking time out.  With the addition of a hammock, a gift from our beautiful friends, I have started to put it to good use! When I need a break, it’s time to Stop! Hammock Time!

Stop Hammock Time

Hammock Time might be for a much-needed nap, a cool drink and a gentle swing whilst listening to the birds, snuggling down with a good book (or something completely non-fiction and educational…I can’t help myself!) or a chance to catch up with a family member or friend on the phone.  Aaahhh…bliss!

So for all you Planners and Do-ers out there…make lists, do lots of stuff, achieve and be busy…but always remember to set aside time for yourself.  Find your own Hammock Time.

Joy of the Festive Season

I love the festive season! A time when our family gets together to celebrate the year, of love, giving, laughter, great food and gorgeous local wines.  We are so lucky to live in a country where we want for nothing regarding food and drink, safety and comfort.  That being said we now try to use as much of our own produce, particularly meat, as we can.  Another celebration, of the life that we lovingly raised and nurtured and acknowledgement of their final sacrifice for our table and sustenance.

As it’s awfully difficult (and a bit of an ask!) to get someone to look after our chooks and lock them up on Christmas night, we encourage the family to come up to White Stone Farm for a good ol’ country Christmas instead!  It’s a small affair, just my folks from Melbourne and my sister, which is just wonderful.  The years have passed where we travel around the countryside visiting a myriad of relatives and now that our oldest matriarchs and patriarchs of the family are no longer with us, we rarely get together with extended family for Christmas. It’s just the 5 of us and it’s lovely. I rarely get to see my family, so I love having them stay.

Stace worked hard in the days leading up to Christmas to complete a patio out the front of the house.  In just 3 days, Stace finished the concreting, erected the wooden supports and on Christmas morning, added the laserlight roofing…just in time for us to enjoy our lunch in the shaded outdoors!

Front patio structure

Front patio people

With the new exterior of the house now complete (and looking amazing!), the front patio provides a shaded, breezy entertaining space in summer, an extra ‘room’ to enjoy and with the addition of café blinds, will also be a great way to capture extra warmth on that northern side of the house in winter.

My parents arrive from Melbourne for the festive season celebrations with their babies in tow – they are wildlife carers for orphaned Grey-headed flying foxes, also known as fruit bats and December is a busy time for looking after these babies.

Baby Amidala

Yoda baby bat

Baby bat feeding

The bats need constant care for about 4 months – including 4-hourly feeds, constant heat when they are tiny and motherly love (yes, they see their human mothers as such when they are tiny!), so my parents have to take them EVERYWHERE with them.

Flying foxes are the most amazing creature – particularly when you get to see and interact with them up close. They have an intelligence similar to monkeys, gorgeous little personalities and bond closely to their foster mum (or dad!).  Having them stay during the festive season wistfully reminds me of the days that I used to be a bat foster carer myself – you can read more about that journey here, so it’s nice to play with baby bats as well as celebrate the season!

Prue and baby bats

My sister comes up to White Stone Farm from her beautiful seaside home, with lots of goodies packed in her car. Food, gifts, decorations – she is super organised and always has that vital item that I have forgotten to procure for the festivities.

We celebrate, give thanks for the year and all it contained and excitedly plan for the year to come. Invariably, I always convince someone to do some gorgeous SAORI weaving with me – complete with wine and cheese…the BEST way to weave!

Wine and cheese weaving NYE

We hope that you have all enjoyed a safe and happy festive season, filled with love and laughter!

The Importance of Time

They say that ‘all good things take time’.  But sometimes you don’t have much time to make a thoroughly knowledgeable decision – particularly when buying property.

Often when we buy a property, we have different ideals and dreams that go along with the purchase.  From our often brief inspection when buying the land, we might put our Potential Goggles on and look at the realm of possibilities. That area would be great for a market garden….oooh, I can grow lots of leafy herbs in this corner or this would be the perfect place for an orchard…so you buy the property along with the lofty dreams and ideals that you have for the place.

Then once you’ve settle in, you often get to know the place, a feel for the seasons and a true understanding of what the property is REALLY like.  The snapshot in time when you viewed the property will likely be vastly different to the rest of the year and the changing seasons. That area that looked perfect for a herb patch in summer is actually a huge frost patch in winter…that amazing orchard location is actually in a high wind spot…or that seemingly perfect location for your market garden is heavily inundated when it rains…

Inundation in paddock

But that doesn’t mean that all is lost, that the property is useless or that your plans were crap – don’t throw away your Potential Goggles just yet.

One of the key things about Permaculture is the idea of time.  Of taking things slowly, not rushing into planning and implementation but to quietly observe and get a real understanding for the place, the seasons, the energy flows throughout the property and how you can harness, overcome, utilise or minimise them to assist in growing and being super productive!

Some stuff you can change, alter, mitigate and avoid, but there are often other challenges that when viewed in the right way can actually be opportunities.  Is that frosty pocket good for a frost tolerant (or loving) plant like blueberries or apples?  Could you harvest some of that free energy in that windy corridor with a windmill or turbine?  Could that inundated area be turned into an ephemeral waterhole?

Sometimes what you need is a little innovative thinking.

And Time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day…a forest doesn’t happen overnight…and a functioning ecosystem from the soil to the tips of the trees, with all their interrelated parts in between doesn’t just happen in an instant…or a year…or sometimes 5 years.  This is particularly true in our area of Central Victoria, on our heavy alluvial clay soils with minimal drainage, dry and hot conditions in summer, flat topography and windy environment.  There are challenges there that will take time to overcome.

The fun part is working out how to adapt an area or change an idea to get the best out of it, or modify it to overcome the challenges.  That’s where Permaculture can really help in giving you a host of ideas, designs and tools to create the most amazing functioning property of efficiency and productivity.

In Permaculture, it’s a case of working with what you’ve got in the best way possible and making the best of the situation.  And understanding that good things always take time.

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.

Spotlight: Chook of the Week

This week we’d like to introduce you to one of our wonderful girls, Bentley. Bentley has been with us from the start, one of our original girls that we bought as a pullet from a guy who sells Hyline Browns. Hylines are an Australian breed and are reputed to be good egg chooks, being bred for maximum egg delivery and robust health.  We’d have to agree, as Bentley has been a fantastic layer over the last 3 years, with a great temperament and a strong and healthy chook in the outdoor free range environment.

Bentley the chook

Bentley has enjoyed raising a few broods along the way too.  As with most chooks, at some point they tend to get clucky.  If the timing is right then we are more than happy for the girls to raise some chicks. It’s always a wonderful journey to watch them raise their young fluffy charges.

Bentley & chicks

Bentley is a very attentive mum, finding them yummy food, teaching them how to dust bathe and protecting them from the other rowdy chooks.  If there is food available, Bentley is the first one to it and is a prolific scratcher, so she has taught her children to forage well!

bentley and chicks

Bentley & Cardigan

She’s one of our best chooks, helping to teach all the young up-and-comers a thing or two about life in the free range chook yard here at White Stone Farm!

The Big Shed takes shape

Winter is descending, with its icy breath and cold, damp shroud. Things have been busy at the farm as we take advantage of the softer soil and cooler temperatures to get stuff done!  With the help of Laurall, our trusty tractor, Stace has been busy putting in posts to make some smaller intensive grazing areas for the herbivores.  This method of grazing smaller patches encourages quicker growth through herbivory and disturbance.  Once the grazers have been on a particular area for a certain amount of time, they are moved to the next patch, giving the grass a chance to recover, rest and regrow.

Post hole digging at White Stone Farm

Closer to the house, the Big Shed is going well, although it’s taking much longer than we expected.  With our busy schedules, particularly for Stace, we’re a few months behind than we thought we would be.  We managed to finish the 1.5m pier holes in the middle of summer, when the soil was concrete and our little handheld, petrol powered auger was pushed to the limit!  In baking 40 degree weather and having to soak the holes and drill bit by bit, we managed to get them all to depth after a number of hot, hardworking weeks.

Then, with the help of a few of Stace’s strapping mates from Melbourne, the supports went up and the shed began looking more like a skeletal version of the finished product.

Our Big Shed is happening at White Stone Farm

Walls and a roof eventually made their way to attachment, with Stace plugging away at it whenever he could.  Friends dived in to help at short notice to get the roof on and secured.

Then, up went the solar panels for power to run the freezer and fridge. We have put on an 800 watt system.  And a 5,000L water tank to capture the precious water that comes from the large roof.

And our final stage was attaching a greenhouse to the front.  This north facing structure will help to warm the space in winter and grow our plants, protected from frost, as well as bring in lots of light to the space.  In summer we will cover it with shade cloth to prevent overheating the space too much.

Shed and building greenhouse on the side

And voila – the Big Shed is ready for action.  This will be our space for harvest preparation, weaving studio, teaching space, relaxing space, movie theatre, lecture theatre, storage area and hub.

The Perils of Permaculture visits

This farm has helped us learn things about ourselves. It’s tested our strength, our resolve, our relationship and challenged our perceptions on many things. I realise that I am not a fan of the hot, dry summer.  Growing up near temperate rainforest, I’m a green forest child and I miss it in the landscape.  So dealing with the long, hot, dry summer has been tough.

WSF-Vista-sml.jpgBut, finally we have our first rains and the parched dirt, so bare of vegetation suddenly starts to sprout!  Little sprigs of green peek out from amongst the cracks in the earth, where you are convinced that no seeds could still remain.  Resilient things, these grasses.

We had a group of Permaculture Design Certificate students out to the farm the other day.  20 students to traipse around and see what we’re up to.  I was excited about showing them around, but was disappointed that they would see the farm in its hardest time, when little is going on and we’re in ‘survival mode’.

But then I realised that this is the BEST time for them to see the place.  When it is at its worst.  When it is at the very start of a permaculture journey.  Too many times in permaculture teaching courses, students are taken to the very best, most amazing permaculture properties to see how it’s done.  I was lucky enough to visit both Melliodora (David Holmgren’s amazing property) and Dave Arnold’s property in Violet Town as part of my PDC…and it was really inspirational…but it gives you a skewed perspective on what you can achieve as a permie newbie.  Often new permies have just bought a dilapidated parcel of land cheaply, or live in a challenging area and it’s difficult to grasp just how long it takes to establish a good, sustainable, functional, integrated permaculture system.  The amazing properties that I visited took 20-30 years to get to the stage they are now at, so while it’s fantastic to be able to look ahead to what is possible in the future and be inspired and motivated, it doesn’t show any reality of what a permie newbie has to face in the immediate future.  Which can inevitably lead to disappointment in the short term.

So I was happy to show them our warts and all perspective on our property.  Some were motivated, some were overwhelmed, and some were downright horrified!  Welcome to the start of permaculture people…it ain’t always easy getting a functional ecology happening with our parched, nutrient-starved Australian landscape.  I did feel the need to follow up with them in Spring to reassure them that things get greener, easier, better and all-round nicer in other parts of the year – and many of them were amazed at the change in the landscape.

‘Tis yet another example of Observe & Interact – understanding that there are many changes that take place in a landscape and on a property throughout the year and that giving yourself time to observe and understand those changes for the challenges or opportunities they provide is of utmost importance to assist with decision making and efficiency.  We bought our property in May, right after some very unseasonal summer rains and the place looked amazing.  Little did we know about the desert like summers to come or the swamp like winters to wade through or that roaring southerly that whips across the property.  I happily told them about some of our rookie errors (planting fruit trees on the windiest part of our block to help provide a wind break…what were we thinking?!) and our enthusiastic plans for the future.  It also allowed them to see a property at the very start – and think about how they might plan their permaculture design and overcome some of these challenges if they had such a property.

Now with the autumn rains, it’s lovely to see the landscape undergoing that change, reminding me that the seasons bring different offerings and appreciating being amongst the landscape as it becomes refreshed after a long hot summer.  I hope through their visit and by following along with our journey, that those permaculture students also have a better understanding of what the start of a permaculture venture might look like – with all its trials and tribulations, as well as having that beautiful Melliodora-esque property vision for the future.

Springing our way into greenery!

Spring is finally here at White Stone Farm.  Hooray!   Winter was frosty and we got a good dose of rain.  Our water channeling system successfully harvested rainwater throughout winter, with our drainage channels filling and slowly but surely moving the water across the block, collecting in small pools along the way.  Our main dam is nearly full now!  Double Hooray!

Dam in flower at White Stone Farm

These pools are now a fantastic habitat for the many wild ducks as they come in their pairs during Spring to stake a claim over one of the many hollows in the River Red Gums and frolic on their newly made ponds.

The landscape has also appreciated the watery gifts from Mother Nature, with grass growing in abundance where there was only bare, baked earth a couple of months ago.  It never ceases to amaze me how grass and other plant seeds can lay dormant over those perishing, dry months and create a resurgence of greenery when the rains finally appear.

Chickens grazing at White Stone Farm

Misfit moultingThe chickens LOVE the greenery, turning into grazing herds in these springtime months and the warmer mornings and longer days kick-start their egg laying once more.  It was pretty ugly times over winter with our Misfits (our ex-cage layers who already have some physical appearance disadvantages!) going through their molt.  Why Mother Nature’s colder weather inspires their little chicken bodies to shed their feathers is still a mystery to me!

Our A-frame chickens are growing fast, with a number of stunning roosters in the mix. They are now urgently seeking homes (let us know if you are keen!), otherwise they will sadly end up in the pot.

Light sussex roosters at White Stone Farm

The llamas are appreciating the fresh green grass and are busily mowing some areas for us!  They always look so miserable in the cold and wet, so it’s nice to see them enjoy the warmer days in the sunshine.

Llamas at White Stone Farm

Our greenhouse carefully protected a number of more fragile plants from frost over winter and we now have lots of lovely seed to collect, dry and replant for next season.  One of my favourites was the gorgeous purple basil – a stunning colour and super tasty!

Purple basil

Winter was a great time for creating in the kitchen.  Our Autumn harvest was turned into soups, stews and chutneys.  With a long history of European farming settlement out here, there is also an abundance of European trees – many now classified as weeds, that are both tasty and incredibly good for you!  The humble Hawthorn berry makes a wonderful chutney – and goes particularly well with kangaroo! Yuum!

Hawthorn Chutney at White Stone Farm

Kombucha at White Stone FarmInspired by some recent workshops with the Ballarat Permaculture Guild, Tread Lightly Permaculture and the Hepburn Relocalisation Network, I’ve been fermenting lots of foods. In a world where everything store-bought is highly processed, pasteurised, neutralised and homogenised, little goodness remains.  Fermentation helps to naturally increase the longevity of foods, but also does wonders to your intestinal bacteria and overall health. Sauerkraut, Sourdough bread, Keffir, Kombucha (right) and Miso have all been made and enjoyed and will keep us well fed and nourished over the months to come!

And a recent change in my working life – with a sudden loss of my desk-based job has created new opportunities to be on the farm full time.  It’s exciting to be able to turn much more of my time, energy and attention to White Stone Farm and all the projects we have on the go…as well as lots more in the pipeline!

After all, it’s not a bad office to spend your days, is it…?

White Stone Farm vista

 

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

The Highs and Lows of Ethical Meat

One of the biggest reasons that we moved out of Melbourne and onto our own land at White Stone Farm was to be able to produce our own food.  Where food comes from is important to us.  What chemicals have been used in the production of fruit and vegetables, what sort of conditions were supposedly ‘cage free/barn laid/free range’ chickens kept in (you’d be surprised just how little area is allowed for commercial ‘free range’ egg production) and how long has that leafy green been in cold storage and trucked across the nation to get to our plate??  When you buy your produce from a supermarket, you can never be really sure of the answers to all of these questions.  And that just wasn’t good enough for us.

The same goes for meat. Top of our concerns is the treatment of animals, the conditions they are kept in and very importantly, how much stress they had to endure as they meet their maker to become made into meat.  In today’s mass consumerism for meat products on a huge scale, it requires a huge need for thousands of animals to supply the demand.  And conditions are not always so favourable. Continue reading