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.

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…

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.

What’s New at White Stone Farm

Wow – how quickly the year is disappearing!  No sooner did we enjoy the golden hues of autumn, then winter approached with bracing winds, rain and more rain, sub-zero temperatures and more rain.  Did I mention rain?  How sad the extra water tanks aren’t in yet!  But the ducks think it’s the best thing in the world – the whole property is one big swamp, just ripe for puddling around in!!

Ducks love rain!

So far, our record coldest morning was about -6°C.  The landscape was blanketed in white icicles, giving everything a lacy cover that crunched underfoot. Nearby towns had snow!  Even the weeds looked pretty in their icicle finery.

Aside from the cold, there have been some glorious days of winter sunshine, enabling Stace to get out and make some amazing changes to the White Stone Farm landscape. The rain and high clay content on the property does make anything to do with dirt or driving around the property a lot more challenging and it’s caused Stace huge frustration as he slips and slides around the block.  In future years we won’t be doing such grand manoeuvres in the slushy, slippery winter but this year we need to get lots done before spring.  Despite the trying conditions, Stace has done an amazing job at moving earth to create some innovative infrastructure and effective grow beds… Continue reading

30 days at White Stone Farm

A quick glimpse of what can happen in a month at White Stone Farm!

Recently I was asked by a fellow-blogger friend to contribute a guest blog detailing my life for 30 days.  The blogger is Christie Peucker, who has just returned from an epic year-long adventure around the globe where she did weird and wonderful things for a month at a time to celebrate and tick off her bucket list.  It’s a fascinating look at the adventure of a solo female traveller in some pretty incredible places.  Christie has now set up 30 Days – The Collection series on her website, asking people to contribute their 30 days of life or adventure – and I was very happy to contribute the crazy antics of daily life at White Stone Farm.  Read on for a taste of my month of musings.  And if you’d like to check out Christie’s blog of her amazing adventure (or help her publish a book about it!), go to: http://www.30days30years.com/

30 years = 30 days of a Tree Change

In a sudden moment of epiphany as we began our 30’s, my partner and I decided that we wanted out of the smoggy city, the hustle and bustle and sprawling suburbia and headed for the hills for a new life of fresh air, wholesome veggies, strong community, country living and a small-acre farming lifestyle.

White Stone Farm family

Within a month we were moving our jobs, lifestyles and futures to an idyllic country township with dreams of creating a sustainable farming venture and merely 6 months later buying and settling on a 10 acre property near Clunes in central Victoria.  Nestled on an ancient volcanic landscape, with huge gum trees that have watched over the land for over 500 years, we began to make our home in the rustic weatherboard farmhouse and named the place White Stone Farm. Continue reading

Change of weather, Change of attitude

It’s amazing what a change in location and lifestyle can make on your outlook to the weather and all it brings.  In the depths of a dry summer, this is even more apparent.

Once rain was an annoyance, an inconvenience, damaging to picnic plans and outdoor BBQ events.  Now here at White Stone Farm, Rain equals Life.

We’ve come to realise that our property seems stuck in a rain shadow – we’ll watch storm clouds scud across the sky towards us, heavy with rain, only to part and leave us in perpetual sunshine, with a tinge of disappointment at missing out.  Great for weddings, not so great when your plants are thirsty and your dam is running low.

Continue reading