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.

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 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

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.

Poultry Politics

Our poultry are an important part of White Stone Farm.  They are our natural insect control, fertilizer makers and feathery entertainers.  (And one day, some of them will make it to the dinner table as well).

Poultry are fascinating.  The way the chickens go about their business in their endless search for tasty bugs, the way they relate to each other in the flock, maintain their pecking order, interact with the other animals, peck, preen, dust-bathe, squawk, cheep, cluck, scratch, explore and cock-a-doodle-do (for the rooster at least!) – all of that is really interesting stuff!  And it entertains us to no end!  Except the cock-a-doodle-doing at 4am…

Chicken peckOur house chooks – Avalon, Bentley (and her 2 chicks), Commanche, Delorian, Eldorado (and her 9 fluff-ball chicks), Ferrari, Galaxy and rooster Henry Ford (yes, all alphabetical and car-themed…) live in the old stables and go about their business of scratching and exploring around the house, garden and nearest paddocks.  On a hot day their favourite spot is under the house, so it’s not uncommon to be sitting in the lounge and have Henry cock-a-doodle-dooing under your feet directly under the floor! 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

The Magic of Springtime

The chill of Winter is leaving the landscape and the warmth of Spring is finally upon us. Thank goodness!!  Those -2°C mornings (down to -6°C one day…brrrrr!) are behind us for another year and we can look forward to longer days, more sunshine and a verdant, productive landscape.  Even the llamas are happy about the plentiful, fresh green growth…

llama landscape

Spring is my favourite time of the year, a reminder after the dry summer and cold winter that there are ideal growing conditions to be had in this part of the world, blue sky days, clement weather and a myriad of birds filling the farm with a joyful chorus as they do their birds and the bees stuff.  Nests are popping up all over the place, birds are courting each other, plumage colours are enhanced (even our male duck’s bill gets a bit more orange and he struts around proudly!) and it’s a great reminder of the joys of new life. Continue reading

Winter wanes at White Stone Farm

With its last gusty, frosty breath, winter seems to be finally waning here at White Stone Farm.  The warmth of spring is starting, the fruit trees are in their flowery finery of pinks and whites and the pastures are becoming verdant and lush once again.  Ah Spring, my favourite month at the farm as the landscape dries out after its winter deluge.

White Stone Farm blossom

Golden rays and deep blues
White and pinks and purple hues
Heady scent upon the breeze
Will likely bring hayfever’s sneeze
But Spring is welcomed in all her glory
To help us with our White Stone story

A change in the seasons also sees a change in birdsong.  Birds quiet, hidden or holidaying somewhere else during the colder parts of the year are back with their songful presence – Grey Shrike Thrushes delight us with their whistling and Striated Pardalotes call and flit amongst the Eucalyptus trees near the house.  The Welcome Swallows have returned and are again nesting above the back door, their indignant calls berating you if you disturb them when going in or out of the house. Continue reading