A Cool Reprieve

Oh, how wonderful this summer has become.  While we steeled ourselves for the baking heat, oven-like conditions, lack of water, dry and dust…Mother Nature instead has given us a beautiful reprieve of cool temperatures and rain.  Blessed be this unusual summer where every day feels like spring!

Sunflower artichoke

December and January both had their share of showers, rain to penetrate and soak into the ground, to still the dust, sustain the plants and seep into our water tanks. To replenish and renew the landscape when everything was getting ready to die.

Our usual plan of Operation Lock Down, to go into Survival Mode, hide away and conserve our energy from the heat outside has been unnecessary.  Beautiful cooler days have allowed us to continue working outside on the house.  Our newest project, now that Stacy has some days free from work, is to finish cladding our ramshackle weatherboard home.  Long gone is the ideal of building our passive solar dream home at the back of the block.  That dream faded after the first year when we realised just how windy and difficult that part of our property can be. Instead, we have decided that this little weatherboard house can indeed be our home and can be retrofitted to increase its thermal mass, jazzed up, insulated, clad and lime rendered to look like one of those gorgeous lil’ houses on the Greek islands.  Our Greek island house to go with our inland Mediterranean climate.  We;ve already painted the windowsills in Mykonos Blue (yes, that’s a real paint colour!)

Stacy house cladding

Not only has the weather helped our struggling plants, but also our mental well being. It’s so nice not to be hot and bothered. To have enough energy and enthusiasm to get outside and get lots of projects done.

I’ve watched friends lament the rain and weather of this inclement summer in Melbourne. For ruining their picnic or curtailing their trip to the beach.  For us it’s a blessing, the loveliest summer that we’ve had here yet.  A wonderful chance to squeeze more into our busy year when we would usually have to down tools and hide.

Our water saving measures are still working well however.  Our grey water system – a series of two IBC tanks that filter the water through sawdust and then charcoal, is working beautifully.  The reed beds that have been planted around it and the pumpkin planted on top has erupted in growth!  And clear, nice smelling water comes out the bottom. Tada!

Grey water system

Who knows how long this reprieve will last.  All we know is that we are very much appreciating it, the animals are definitely enjoying it and we are making the most of it while we can!  Now, time to get back out there…

The Drying of Summer

Golden Brown, golden brown

The landscape’s wearing its golden gown

Makes me frown, gets me down

I miss the green in this golden brown.

Summer landscape

As Summer descends, the landscape colour and demeanour is changing. The greenery is disappearing quickly as the weather heats up and the air dries out.  The rolling hills and pastures of the ancient volcanic landscape take on a golden hue; a yellow descends over the landscape until the only faint smudge of subdued greenery shows amongst the eucalyptus leaves.  From the verdant green of spring, we move into a dry, hot, dusty, yellow landscape of summer.

It happened even earlier than I expected this year.  Our Big Event of the Year – our long awaited DIY Country Wedding here in the volcanic landscape was supposed to be awash with verdant green rolling hills.  I had planned for early November to take advantage of that greenery and the nicer weather…but they evaded us.  But, it still made for dramatic pictures and a stark contrast with the golden grass instead.

Prue & Stace wedding

Summer in our new landscape often brings with it a certain depression for Stace and I. We’re forest people – we originally hail from the tree fern abundance of cool temperate rainforest.  Our property is starved of greenery in the summer months, the baking heat and high winds evaporate moisture until you feel like you are in the desert.  As temperatures soar into the mid-40’s, we go into survival mode at White Stone Farm.  Our aim in summer goes from abundance in spring to SURVIVAL… to keep things ticking over, keep things alive and hydrated.  Plants, chooks, llamas. Just keep everything from expiring in the heat!

When we encountered our first summer, it was a big struggle. We didn’t realise how hot and dry it got out here.  We had planted 50 tomato plants and not only was I working full time nearly an hour away, I was trying so hard to keep all these plants alive on a scarce water supply and had limited time to keep things going on the hot dry days.  It was hard, but we persevered and to be honest after all that effort, the tomatoes were absolutely amazing, but it was a huge struggle to keep things ticking over when we were barely here.  We just didn’t understand the challenges summer sets here.

The second summer was perhaps even harder because we knew the heat and hardships that awaited us. I would look with envy at other places in Victoria (or the world!) that have milder summers, microclimates, shade, cooler temperatures, less wind and we’d question why we were in this place.  A hot, dry depression hit us again.  Our water situation was a little better because we had installed more water tanks, but it was a very dry summer.  The rains had stopped well into early-mid Spring and the land was volatile.  That summer was pretty tough.  Our dams dried up completely, the silver perch we tried to establish died. The fear of bushfires crept into our psyche, particularly mine as I was alone at the farm a lot during that time as Stace worked in Melbourne.  We questioned ourselves again…were we in the right place?  Was this all too hard?  Did we bite off more than we could chew?

The summer of 2014 was another hot and dry one.  But we were no longer surprised and steeled ourselves to mentally and physically cope.  It is what it is.  The heat saps you of strength, willingness and enthusiasm.  But, we rise to the challenge, we overcome the obstacles and we managed to keep everyone alive and happy in the heat!

One of the biggest lessons these summers have taught us is that as the seasons change and go through these big extremes, our understanding of the landscape and this environment is also changing as we continue to experience it.  The first principle of permaculture is Observe & Interact – to take the time to really understanding what goes on in the landscape, across a number of seasons.  How do they differ?  What does each season present as challenges and rewards?  Our dawning realisation is that we have wild extremes here.  Winter is very cold and frosty and summer is incredibly dry and hot.  The soil goes from waterlogged in winter to massive open cracks in summer.  It presents challenges but it also encourages adapatability and understanding.  Appreciating each season for what it does present.  With the hot dry environment, we managed to dry a heap of waste barley mash from the local boutique brewery to use as chook food.

Chooks and barley

The hot and dry environment means that we can dry food really easily such as tomatoes, herbs to enjoy in months to come.

Where once I used to lament the lack of grass and bare, dusty paddocks that surround our house, I now rejoice in seeing the sparse paddocks, because our grass fire risk is minimised.

Llamas in summer

Sure, it takes some different ways of working and make sustainability more of a challenge.  Additional hay needs to be procured from the farmer next door to keep the herbivores fed if all the grass has dried and died,we need to scrounge the local supermarket to get green scraps for the chickens each day, we pick our battles on what we will and won’t grow and our normally outdoor working hours mean that we hide away in the seclusion of our house in the middle of the day.  We like to think of it as a Spanish siesta (which usually involves close association with a pedestal fan and Scrabble!).

And we appreciate each season for what it brings.  We have stopped asking ourselves if we are in the right place.  We KNOW we’re in the right place for a myriad of reasons and we rise up to the challenge of overcoming these tough seasons and showing how others can do so too.  Let’s face it, our world will continue to dry.  Temperate areas will become increasingly drier and we need to know how to adapt to those changing situations. Growing food doesn’t just occur in the wet tropics or on perfect properties and landscapes of abundance – it happens right here, during punishing summers, droughts and harsh landscapes.

We’ll just forge a path through the dust, heat and haze and then show people how it can be done!  Watch this space…

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.

Saori weaving studio in Clunes

How exciting!  My plans to open a Saori (Japanese weaving) studio at the farm have just been kicked up a notch with the opportunity to have a studio in the township of Clunes!  As part of the Empty Spaces Initiative, run by a not-for-profit organisation called Renew Australia and in conjunction with Hepburn Shire Council, I put in an application in collaboration with a couple of other artists in town to open a creative collective studio and we have just been informed that we have the space!

We are madly getting the space ready for our Grand Opening and the Clunes Booktown Festival, which is a huge weekend for the town.  How lucky that we have a studio and retail space front and centre in main street of Clunes.  The studio will allow us the space and time to commit to our respective crafts and allow us to have workshops in weaving, spinning, drawing, felting and all sorts of crafty pursuits.  Collaborating with Clunes accommodation providers, the local eateries and other businesses, we hope to attract lots of people to our gorgeous little town and help to increase the tourism revenue to keep our livelihoods going.

Prue at her new studio in Clunes

This is an exciting time.  For new passions and pursuits.  To take up new opportunities and take my Saori weaving studio and teaching up a notch.  So, if you’re headed for Clunes, look out for the Sketched, Spun & Warped studio in the main street.  Drop in and do a weaving workshop or say hello and learn more about this fantastic and beautiful craft!

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.

Resilience of Chickens

Chickens are amazing creatures.  They are really tough in many respects and really fragile in others. A chest infection or eggbound oviduct can kill them quickly, whereas grave wounds can just seem like an annoyance and they pull through.

Take, for example, one of our beautiful, big Light Sussex girls.  In the morning, as they burst out of the chicken Falcon to have breakfast, I didn’t even realise anything was amiss.  Everyone ran around and had their breakfast in a frenzy of food gobbling excitement, I gave them a cursory glance over to see if anyone looked mopey, dull feathered or otherwise untoward and then headed to the Big Shed to help Stace with some stuff.

About half an hour later the chickens ran past in their excitable hurry to find the next tasty grub.  There is usually one particular hen, or sometimes it’s the rooster leading the charge to the next feeding spot and everyone hurries along after, fearful of missing out or being separated from the flock (leaving them vulnerable to attack by our resident Magpies). The main group passed and then hobbling along behind trying to keep up was one of the big beautiful Light Sussex hens.  With blood pouring out of her foot!

Stace and I raced over and grabbed her and were horrified to find that two of her toes were missing!  They had been sheared clean off!  Perplexed how it may have happened – perhaps she got her toes caught in the wire floor of the car as they all jumped out…I raced her off to the house for emergency medical treatment.  For me it was an emergency…to the chook it just seemed like an annoyance because she wasn’t eating with the others!

I bathed the foot and inspected the wound closer.  Two of her toes had been cut off from the first knuckle.  She patiently let me bathe her foot in a warm saline solution, then treat her with antiseptic and bandage the would.  We set up a clean and dry hospital cage outside the back door and although perplexed by her new bandage, she settled in well.

Chook with foot injury

We inspected the chook Falcon but couldn’t work out exactly what had happened.  No toes remained…likely they were gobbled up by an over eager breakfast eater!  Eeew.

Each day I would change the dressing and ensure that the wound was healing well and she was bestowed with the name Peggy…short for, you guessed it, Pegleg.  It looked horrific, but the healing process was amazing, with the skin growing over the exposed bone.

Chook with foot injury

Chook with injured foot recovering

Eventually it was healed enough for the Great Outdoors and Peg had taught herself how to balance on her limited number of toes.  She is going great now, with no hint of a limp or disability – you can’t tell her from her Light Sussex sister.  She has adapted her scratching technique and forges on in her chookie way.  What a trooper is our Peggy!

Peggy the chook recovering from a foot injury

Something summery this way comes…

From our lovely days of spring, the weather has now starting to warm up as summer gets into full swing and give us a hint of increasing summer heat to come.  The temperature climbs higher – mid 20’s, 30 degrees…mid 30’s…in the heat of summer (around now) the mercury will reach into the 40’s again and scorch our landscape.

The landscape held on to its last vestiges of verdant finery for quite a while.  The greenery. Oh how I love the greenery before the scenery changes to golden yellow and browns.  I love the rolling green hills of the volcanic landscape, the freshness of the growth, the flowers and abundant water.

Rose at White Stone Farm

I hold onto the wonderful memories of these mild spring time days, of longer light and activity, before heat of summer saps our strength and makes things too hot and horrible to do much. Before we switch into overheated survival mode!  Lots of opportunity to train llamas, spend time working with Jess, get stuck into weeding, watch the plants grow vigorously, harvest garlic, bask in the sunshine whilst out and about among the veggies and watch chickens grow. Often it means that we don’t sit down to dinner until the sun has gone to bed, eating at 10pm (very Spanish of us!), with little time left to do much after that but put ourselves to bed…but it certainly makes us appreciate all those daylight hours to get stuff done!  The animals and plants seem to enjoy this last bit of productivity too, with the horse and llamas relishing the extra grazing period and lazy days in the sun before the grass turns completely dry.

Wildfire and the girls

With the arrival of good friends over summer, comes the opportunity to get the llamas out and about on a trek through the landscape as we prepare for our Llama Luncheon treks in the near future. As the llama girls grow and learn, it’s really good to get them used to walking with a number of different people as we go on these walks – and it’s getting much too difficult to walk them all together by myself these days!

A trek through the landscape is always fun! Owen and Karen, our regular visitors and wonderful friends from Sydney enjoy spending time at the farm and helping us with the llamas.  Owen and Brittany have a very special connection and she absolutely loves it when he comes to stay.

Owen Brit Prue & Lilah

Wandering through the volcanic scenery with the llamas is a quiet and relaxing way to appreciate the scenery, keep fit and enjoy the peace and solitude of the country.

Heading out on a llama trek

As we wander along the llamas are inquisitive and enjoy the experience, the new sights and smells, the wildlife, the sunshine and the company.  Often Brittany will start humming happily in her llama way as she walks along.

Llama trekking with Owen and Karen

And Yuki tries to stop to eat every step of the way…with so much hay around, it’s a wonder we actually get anywhere at times!!

Yuki and balesAfter a lovely amble with the llamas there is always time for llama kisses at the end!

Llama kisses with Yuki and Karen

A big thank you for Owen and Karen for spending time with us this summer and helping us out on the farm!

So, who wants to come along next and join us for a llama trek??

Waiting for chickens

With my new found hours here at the farm, it’s been timed perfectly with our decision to incubate a new batch of chickens for our laying and eating flock.  Carefully collecting up the best selection of eggs from our favourite hens, we carefully stored them until we had enough to turn the incubator on and start the 21 day process.  And then my mother hen duties began.

My vigilance over the last couple of weeks has been firmly concentrated on the incubator in the spare bedroom.  Inside the quietly humming machine, the miraculous growth of baby chicks from mere fertilised cells to gorgeous fluffy, fully-functioning chickens curled inside their protective shell is taking place.  In order for this to go smoothly, the incubator must be kept at the right humidity and temperature, so regular checking to make sure that the power hasn’t failed, or the ambient temperature isn’t affecting the machine or that the humidity is still good is a regular part of my new routine here at the farm. I hover around the machine that provides such life support to our growing chicks to ensure that the specific temperatures indicated on the incubator instructions are set correctly and that all is well: 38.2ºC from 1st – 6th day, 38ºC from 7th – 14th day, 37.8ºC on the 15th day, then 37.3ºC from the 16th – 21st day and make sure that the auto rotator in the incubator is doing its job a couple of times a day.  It never ceases to amaze me that hens control all of these important temperature and humidity functions that are required with a developing egg just with their body, the amount of time they spend sitting on the eggs and they instinctively know when to turn them, heat them up, cool them down and just when their babies are preparing to hatch.  Nature is truly an incredible thing.

So, when the time comes in the next couple of weeks and all being well, our babies will hatch and we’ll have another new brood of (hopefully!) lots of new female layers to add to our pastured poultry flock.  Our incubator chicks from last year are doing really well. It’s been amazing watching them grow over the last year.  From early beginnings as they struggled to get out of the egg and take in the world for the first time…

chicks hatched

Tiger Newly hatched

Becoming inquisitive balls of fluff, where every day is a delight watching their antics as they eat, sleep and explore…(I spend a lot of my time ‘chicken watching’ during this particular stage…!)

Incubator chickens at White Stone Farm

baby chicken morning

Sleepy chickens

Enjoying their first dust bath…(and appreciating just how instinctual dust bathing is for them!)

First dust bath

Those early childhood years as they continue to explore their surroundings and get ready for the big move outside…

Young chicks

Watching as their feathers start to come through and the array of beautiful colours they will become…

Different coloured chicks

More world exploration (and dust bathing!) as they are moved outdoors into a protected spot to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather…

Young chicks outdoors

Meeting the other hens…

Chicks meeting chickens

Those awkward teenage years where they are finding their independence and exploring their world (although they still want to get close and sit on your shoulder!)…

Chicken on shoulder

To capable and independent adults with beautiful personalities and temperaments.

Older chickens exploring

It’s always an exciting journey watching them grow and develop.  The hardest part is when the roosters come of age and after enjoying halcyon days on the farm without a care in the world, they leave this earth and are loved and respected at the dinner table.  There is always tears then…but that is the path of ethical meat for us.  With lots of love and respect every step of the way.

So, as I wait for these new chickens to come into the world, fussing and clucking like a mother hen to make sure that their conditions are juuuust right for a successful hatch, I am eager to meet these new personalities and can’t wait to get to know them as they enjoy their lives here at White Stone Farm.

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

 

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.