2015 – 2016 Progress Report

Well, the last 6 months have been busy with planting and the like, we only had a couple of WWOOFers (and only one for 3 weeks of the planting season!) so not as much productivity in that time as I would like, but still, when I went out to take the progress photos I realised that we have still made some significant steps.

This year we have:

  • Cleaned and sorted all the ‘junk’ around the yard
  • Put up the Tank Stand
  • Continued to build the sculptural stone edging wall along the east side all the way to the front fence
  • Done all the stone work for the walls of the Outdoor Kitchen
  • Positioned and connected up the small Header Tank
  • Cleaned down the old stone work in the Outdoor Kitchen and built the sink/bench
  • Planted significant areas with native trees as planned (I personally planted around 250¬†trees this year – a personal best ūüôā )
  • Extended the Orchard plantings all the way around the play area and along the front end of the western driveway
  • Trenched pipes across the driveway in two more places and connected the new plantings to the irrigation system
  • Grew a patch of barley…
  • Sourced and placed logs for the seating in the Bonfire Area
  • Laid the floor of the Outdoor Kitchen and moved the BBQ in so we could start using it!
  • Finished the trampoline hole and installed the trampoline in the ground where it now gets significant use
  • Dug the hole for Brigid’s Well
  • Put in the posts for the roof of the Outdoor Kitchen
  • Installed a clothesline
  • Built half of the Garden Shed
  • Tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep on top of the weeds

 

We are now looking forward to meeting our new WWOOFer next week and getting some more projects completed. So far, on track to be finished the major yard works by the end of next year…

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2015 Orchard Extensions

All the native planting that we have been doing is vital, making up¬†by far the largest volume of trees in the ground to create the general micro-climate changes that come with large tracts of shade and wind break. However, even though the various acacias¬†are tasty for our future cow and sheep they don’t provide us with much direct food for ourselves so some non native orchard varieties are very important.

The difficulty is that there are a limited range of trees which will prosper in our climate and soil profile so a mix of research, planning, preparation and timing is required to increase our chances of success. The first fruit trees planted while we were preparing for the others were hardier varieties – a quince and two mulberries – which could handle the harsher environment while we prepared for the other, softer species.

Last year we planted a small arc of the inner orchard, which surrounds the playground. This orchard is designed to have the most protected species in it as it will be within two arms of other trees – the windbreak and the front animal yard – on the western side and shielded from northern/eastern winds by the house and shadehouse. The trees in this area have been planned for a number of years and the soil prepared for at least a year prior to planting so we have only been able to put in a few trees each season. Last year we planted two apples (Jonathan and Granny Smith) a pear (Beurre Bosc) and in the nut orchard on the other side of the poultry yards an almond (Self-fertile paper-shell). Add in some lower storey plants and the result a year later is this:

2015 Orchard (1)

This year we continued in that vein, planting the last of the trees in that arc (except for the cherry that is on order still)  and a couple more nut trees in their area (more there next year). 2015 Orchard (2)

Look at those pretty trees waiting for spring to burst into verdant activity… There’s something very satisfying about planting trees that have been actively worked towards for 3 years now. These trees, finally, here.

Previously that would have been the end of it and we would be back to the natives. The big difference this year¬†however is that with the push out into the side of the block the outer ring of fruit trees on the plan opens up for planting. This ring is designed for more hardy, climatically suited varieties as they¬†will have some protection from the outer windbreak but will be in¬†full sun all afternoon as the access driveway which encircles the whole yard is directly to their west. When looking for species to plant the first thing to identify is that our climate, and even soil conditions, can be loosely classed as ‘Arid Mediterranean’ so trees which prosper in the hot south of Spain, Italy and Greece, through Turkey and Northern Africa are likely to have a good chance here. The same can be said for similar zones in the other continents.

Therefore, after seeing what was available in that range, we purchased a group and set them out in a pattern around the edge of the driveway. Much hole digging by Noven and they went in over the Solstice, significantly increasing our potential food sources. I’m quite excited by a number of the species in this selection – ones I remember from my childhood like Loquats, Persimmons and Figs, those rich flavours of Summer and Autumn. Olives figure large in the group too and will make a welcome addition to the pate and quince paste on our cheese plates in years to come. I’m also very excited by the Jujubes, these are not a fruit I’ve dealt with much before but I really enjoy the flavour (like a date but with a light, almost mousse-like texture even when dry)¬†and I have local friends who have had success with them. The last species in the arc is Pomegranate, which grows strongly in this area and will provide protection for slower neighbours as well as beautiful flowers and lovely fruit.

2015 Orchard (3) Looking West with the driveway turning to the north. Note last year’s pomegranate proving it’s vigour.

2015 Orchard (6)Looking South

The Nursery that we sourced the trees from also listed a Native Lime which,¬†when I queried them I was delighted to discover it was indeed the local ‘Bush Lime’ not the more tropical Finger Lime. These trees are quite hard to find, but being a regionally native true citrus they are not an opportunity to miss. They do come with one rather large warning though…. they are very, very prickly. Some spines are as long as 8cm!¬†2015 Orchard (4) I pruned the ones on the trunk off for transportation.

The limes hadn’t been in the plan yet to be honest, but I was quickly able to open up the last official orchard zone in the yard – the area along the front fence on the side block. This zone will mostly be planted last as it is needed as a staging area for the future house renovations, but the far end can be done now as an extension of the western windbreak which was next on my planting schedule for this year anyhow. ¬†Some quick excavation of the old stone wall and building of the western end of the sculptural wall which will replace it and the area for the limes was ready. You can just see their spindly trunks in the picture, but hopefully they will grow quickly as they are quite beautiful mature trees.¬†2015 Orchard (5)Of course now I’ve ordered a few more species to join them in that corner so there will be another, smaller, wave of fruit tree planting in amongst the natives that fill the rest of the season.

For those who are interested, here is a full list of trees planted in this round and the remaining trees on order for these zones:
2015 Orchard Variety List

2014 – 2015 Progress Report

The year has turned again and seeing I took a raft of progress photos at the start of January 2014 it made sense to take the same angles again and see what progress has been made in the previous¬†year. All in all, there seems to have been a lot of major changes in the yard and some areas are finally finished! A quick highlight run of things ticked off the ‘to do’ list goes like this:

  • All major earthworks for gardens
  • Shed tank in and immediate area landscaped
  • Start of the main creek & waterfall done
  • Bonfire area finished (only lacking seating)
  • First section of Windbreak finished
  • Front Hill and West Hill fully planted
  • Orchard extended, bamboo fence completed
  • New tank stand in place (finish that this week coming)
  • Shed storage area cleared and packed
  • Outdoor bathroom area prepared first level
  • Shed significantly cleaned out
  • Current loss rate for natives VERY low ūüôā
  • Log bridge across lake from circle to island.

Still a long way to go, but getting there ūüėÄ Thanks to everyone who has helped in the last year, and here’s to just as much productivity in the coming months…

Bonfire Area

Sometimes it’s quite hard to keep the energy going after a really good WWOOFer leaves, ¬†so I set myself a task to complete in the week after Terrica left: finish off the bonfire area. ¬†This area had be designated for quite a while, it’s on the maps, but it wasn’t really on the list to get finished this year. However, after we put the palm trees in and then did the garden beds around them it seemed obvious that the zone was so close to being finished it just had to get done.

Bonfire Area (1)

Jan 2014 – the blank slate

Bonfire Area (2)

At the start of the week… almost there


Armed with the crowbar, shovel and wheelbarrow, I set out to shape the fire pit that would be the centrepiece of the area. Sometimes I think I must subconsciously love digging – I certainly seem to do a lot of it!

Bonfire Area (3) Bonfire Area (4) Bonfire Area (5) Bonfire Area (6) Bonfire Area (7) Bonfire Area (8) Bonfire Area (9)

¬†I dug the terraces and then smoothed them to a bowl shape for the main pit and then to the house side, I dug out a ‘hungi pit’ for ground¬†oven cooking. Then of course I had to fill it back up… I filled the hungi completely with sand which is the preferred cooking medium and will be much easier to dig out when we want to use it and put a layer of the same sand in the main bowl. I used the rest of the shale in that area to raise up the mound around the pit and there we go – done!

Bonfire Area (10)

Bonfire Area (11)

Now all we need to do is find suitable logs for seating and this zone is off the list until the palm trees get big enough to encourage additional plantings… oh, and the bridge from the house of course… but that’s for another day.

Saying Goodbye…

Having WWOOFers can be great; the improvement in productivity, the help with general things and the new friendships that can be built. However there comes a time when travellers must move on and then we have to say goodbye. Sometimes it’s quite hard – you’ve made a good friend and it feels like they could stay for a bit¬†longer at least. This last weekend was one of those times.

Terrica arrived at the start of August and settled right in. She had been recommended by a close friend and it seemed meant to be – an easy fit with our family. And that girl, she can work! In the time that Terrica was here we achieved quite a lot and the vast majority of it was due to her fantastic efforts. A couple of examples of the achievements while she was here:

Playground/Orchard

Before (Jan 2014)

Before (Jan 2014)

Terrica (2)

After (Oct 2014)

In the orchard the garden beds have been weeded, mattocked, sown with various seeds/seedlings and mulched to start the ‘under canopy’ garden. A low netting fence has been installed to deter the guinea fowl from the germinating green mulch and the bamboo fence repaired and extended.

Greater Bonfire Area

Terrica (3).jpg

Before (End May 2014)

Terrica (4)

After (Oct 2014)

This area is even more noticeable! everything on the other side of the driveway except the inital earthworks has pretty much been Terrica’s doing in the after image. Not just the date palms, but another two watering zones (‘west hedge’ and ‘windbreak’). Extensive tree planting, irrigation laying, mulching, edging rock collection and placement about covers what has happened in this zone – amazing transformation!

***

Of course that’s just two areas. In total Terrica planted around 120 native trees, laid irrigation for 5 new zones, helped plant 6 palm trees, sorted tons (literally) of rocks, weeded and cleaned the next layer of rusty wire/sardine can rubbish from vast tracts of garden beds, mulched, installed tree guards, looked after the house for nearly two weeks while we were away, took part in wrangling the 3 year old with good nature and helped grandma out no end… gosh we will miss her!

Aside from all of this she has become a grand friend and I have no doubt that we will keep in touch (and see her again).

Now the time has come to search for our next visitor, and in that aim I have set up a new page here – ‘WWOOFing with us’¬†¬†which provides some more information about the program and a guestbook of our previous visitors. Check it out and let me know what you think ūüôā

The Date Palm Saga

We live in the desert. It seems therefore obvious that we should have some date palms in our gardens. Not only are they very tasty when they bear fruit, but they provide vital micro-climate creation due to their dense shade. In the arid lands they hail from, tender crops such as lettuces, tomatoes and capsicums can be seen growing underneath the date palms. Such a blessing of cool in the middle of 50 degree summers will be a vital part of building our eco-system.

With this in mind, and a clear spot picked out for the palms, I did some research and found Gurra Downs, an organic enterprise who specialise in cultivating, growing and harvesting dates in South Australia. I organised to travel down to their property and pick up 3 palms a couple of weeks ago; 2 advanced females and one male. Making a bit of a road trip of the mission I loaded up Grandma and Terrica and we headed off with stops in Port Augusta, Booleroo (to pick up the Trees for Life tree guards), overnight in Kapunda, visiting a friend near the River Murray and then to the palm plantation. 

Once we arrived I was treated to a small tour of some of their established palms and we had a good talk about ways to help the ones we were picking up prosper. Then, we loaded up the back of the ute with our palms (and Grandma bought 3 as well) and headed home via Barmera and the Banrock Station Wetlands Centre. 

Once we arrived home after our 1,300km adventure the time for some real work had come. While at the plantation I had learned that it is best to plant the palms in a well so that the dirt can be filled in as they grow, as they have a tendency to try to jack themselves out with their roots otherwise. This meant that the hole for each palm ended up being much bigger than any other hole yet dug for a single plant… and there were 6 to do including Grandma’s. It took us 4 days over the course of a week to get them all planted (and some very interesting blisters) but they look fantastic in the ground.

Date Palms (4)

 

Of course, the job wasn’t finished yet. I also learned that we needed to put up a good windbreak for them and that the male, which had yet to be hardened off would need shade for this year at least. This meant the construction of some guards that could remain in place for at least a year (probably a bit longer). Using droppers, wire and shadecloth we were able to make something that has worked quite well already through some strong winds in the last couple of days, and I finished the shade roof on our male today.Date Palms (5)

Female with windbreak

 

Date Palms (6)Male with windbreak and 50% shade roof

Now there is just some spreading out of shale, placing some edging stones and the arrival of the mulching hay to go and this area will be pretty much complete for now.

 Date Palms (1)  Date Palms (2)  Date Palms (3)

Bonfire area progress over last 6 months.

Once the palms are big enough to be creating their shade micro-climate we will be planting some more interesting things in the beds around their base, but for now, just the mulch when it comes.