The Shed Tank (Part 1)

A while ago we had organised a tank to replace the tiny one that was attached to the shed. Tanks take time though, so we didn’t expect it to come quickly. Time passed… All of a sudden, with very little warning we discovered that the tank was due to arrive and of course I’d been concentrating on other things so the area wasn’t cleared properly yet! With the help of the WWOOFers we had at the time, we pumped the small tank empty and shifted it to the poultry yards where it could have a useful temporary home. Then came the clearing process. It turned out to be quite a big job.

Shed Tank 1 (1)

The bushes came away easily as they are a shallow rooted (or so we thought) variety. However, underneath that camoflaging layer was the remains of an old stone wall and the tank that was coming was BIG so to fit it in that needed to be levelled, ie: digging out all the stones down to ground level to remove the mound from where the wall had fallen down years previous and melded with the landscape. The wall was made of very large stones so it was hard work but the lovely WWOOFers put in a Herculean effort and got it down to ground level.

Then the tank arrived. It was even bigger than we thought! In fact it was bigger than the shed, well taller anyway. This presents a problem when you want the water from the roof of the shed to run into the tank with maximum efficiency/minimal storage loss. The only solution is to sink it into the ground. Cue a lot of digging. The hole required needed to be 4.5m diameter and 40cm deep from the level at the base of the corner of the shed. Not only was that a massive volume of dirt to shift, but the stone wall had foundations (with some truly phenomenal rocks in it) that went a way below the ground level and those shallow rooted plants actually turned out to be deep, fragile rooted plants which broke off easily and left behind a network of woody booby traps to contend with. It took over a month to do with the help of 7 other people (WWOOFers and visitors) through that period it was achieved and what a relief that was!

Shed Tank 1 (2)

I also cut out a ramp for the wheelbarrow to get the dirt out and then, when it was deep enough for the tank I sank the ramp down a further 80 cm so that the wheelbarrow could be positioned under the tap. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to get underneath a tap at the bottom of a tank! All the original tanks here suffer from that problem, but not this new one 🙂

Before we could position the tank though I needed to sift some shale and line the base of the hole so that there was a soft, level base for the tank. With a future 27,000L of water to be stored there it is vital that the base is prepared properly so as not to puncture the base of the poly tank – that would be a disaster. I also put up the first part of a dry stone wall where the tap was going to be situated so that the tank could rest on the edge of it when in position. Finally…. we were ready to put the tank in position… to be continued 🙂

Shed Tank 1 (3)

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Earthworks 2

The success of the earthworks from the previous year encouraged me to organise to complete the planned major landscaping in May this year. This time I organised to hire a bobcat digger from the nearby pastoral station. This piece of machinery was much better than the dingo digger that I used the previous year being a bit bigger and more comfortable to use. I had access to the machine for two weeks this time so I was confident that I would be able to get everything done. It certainly helped that I had used the dingo the previous year though because it only took me about an hour to get back into the routine of the skid steer mechanism so I was able to be much more productive.

I started by finishing of the ‘lake’, digging the deepest part that I hadn’t been able to finish the previous year and using that dirt to build ‘Hecate’s Hill’ wrapped around that cove. This will be the only part of the waterscape except the reed bed graywater system to have permanent water – being the retreat zone for our fish when the lake is finished… but that’s a ways off yet. After the end of the first day with the bobcat the shape of it was there though.140510 Progress Earthworks 2 (3) (649x800)

The hole looks much deeper than it is because of the hill right next to it – a handy illusion 🙂

With that area of the yard now finished it was time to move onto the second acre where eventually our animal yards will be situated. I had marked out the plan with spraypaint and pegs as that system worked well the previous year, but this design was about three times the size and much more complicated – basically a figure of 8 of ‘waterways’ with varying depths to encourage water flow when we get rain and deep areas to act a pig wallows. These low points were to be surrounded by the corresponding ‘hills’ formed from the dirt I was moving. None of the hills are particularly tall. It took me about 5 days constant work to get it all done but I did!140510 Progress Earthworks 2 (1) (649x800) 140510 Progress Earthworks 2 (2) (649x800)  140510 Progress Earthworks 2 (4) (649x800)It’s quite difficult to get good representative photos of it. I would love to get an aerial shot one day. Now we will leave that area to settle (although I may plant some green mulch species on part of it in spring) for a year before planting it heavily with fodder appropriate natives that will allow our animals to free range as much as possible as well as stabilising the soil, blocking wind and creating a micro-climate that will grow more effective the more trees we can get in.

Before I took the digger back we also got some local shale gravel delivered to spread on paths and clear areas. This fine purple stone is the most amazing material and we are blessed to have access to an abundant supply. I am pretty sure that will all that we had delivered we will have enough for all the landscaping I had planned. I spread it out into smaller piles situated near where it needs to be used but it still needs to be laid out on the paths and clearings – a big job!

It’s so amazing to have all the earthworks done though! The shape of the land is there, like the first pass on a marble sculpture; the details will come but the character of the work can be seen now I think.

The First Mass Planting…

To achieve the density of plants that we are looking for we need to plant a lot of trees. These trees will help with climate control (shade, wind and water) as well as improving the structure and quality of the soil. Given our soil type and climate it makes sense to begin these plantings with locally native species so as to provide micro-climate zones for planting more fragile species later. To purchase the quantity of seedlings that we require would be prohibitively expensive and while collecting local seed is possible, and even desirable, it is time consuming and that time can, at this point, be better spent elsewhere.

Luckily, in South Australia there is a charity program which is perfect for our needs: Trees for Life. This program is in existence to drive re-vegetation and it’s main service is the provision of inexpensive seedlings, either grown by volunteers or through the materials to grow your own. We chose to grow our own. For a nominal fee (plus membership, also quite affordable) you are provided with everything you need to grow up to 1140105 Seedlings (537x800)000 seedlings (except the time and water), including seed. They will however only provide seed from regionally native species (in our case the Far North Zone which covers the majority of the state – all the areas considered ‘Outback’ . That’s perfect for us though of course, so we signed up and ordered our first set of 20 boxes.

With the help of our first WWOOFers, we got all the seeds in and managed to germinate around 500 seedlings – not the 1000 that is possible, but some of our losses were due to inexperience and others due to our conditions. We were very happy with the results. The seeds are sown between November and January and then must be raised until at least May when they should be planted out as quickly as possible to allow them to get well established before the hot weather sets in.

Assisted by a number of subsequent sets of WWOOFers over the middle months of 2013 we planted around 250 of our seedlings, attempting a couple of windbreaks, some structural lines of saltbush and trees along driveways and dense covering of some of the new hills created by the earthworks that we had done in April. Unfortunately one of the big difficulties once a seedling is planted in this type of environment is keeping it alive. One of the most important aspects of this is the provision of water; most of these species have long tap roots, designed to reach to our relatively shallow underground water table (between 8-12m below surface level), however they First Plantingneed to grow big enough to get to it before they will prosper so in the meantime they need some help or some luck. We don’t want to be left in the position of relying on luck when we are contending with temperatures of over 50C so water is vital. It is also hard, time consuming work to run the dripper lines that will provide that not to mention quite expensive when we are talking about the quantity of drippers and pipe required for the number of trees we had planted. Unfortunately we only managed to get one area (the new hill, which had become known as the ‘Front Hill’) laid with drippers and this took its toll on our survival rates.

140105 Eucalyptus Yearling 2 (612x800)Then came the first hot north winds in late September and we knew we were in trouble – we lost about a quarter of our plantings that first day – as the wind sucked the moisture out of the leaves of the seedlings, leaving them crisped and without hope of redemption. In total, by the end of summer this year we had lost over 95% of the seedlings that we had planted! The only survivors were in the zone which we had managed to irrigate. What survivors they are too! the photo to the left is of a Arid lands mallee  with a more delicate structure than some of the heavier mallees – Eucalyptus Gracialis – this seedling can be seen just after planting in the middle picture: the lower of the two seedlings on the far right of the image.

We have high hopes for those that survived their first harsh summer and have learned a lot that we are taking on board with this years plantings, if we can get the survival rate up, this project will come into fruition much quicker… but any tree successfully added to the landscape here is a win and something to be cherished, I can’t wait to see them grow into a luscious tangle of green over the coming years.

Earthworks 1

Our block is not only in an arid environment, with skeletal soils, but it is naturally pretty much flat (maybe a 10cm slope over the length of the block) so we decided quite early on that we would need to do some pretty serious earthworks to increase our chances of success – permaculture works best with slopes. We didn’t want massive mountains but just enough to put some contours in the land and direct the flow of water around the property. So in late April 2013 we drove 6 hours to Adelaide and picked up a hire ‘Dingo Digger’  and bring it back for the week.

I had never done anything like drive a digger so it was a steep learning curve but it was also quite a bit of fun. The transformation of the section of the yard that I was concentrating on was phenomenal and it was really revitalising to see such a step forward in our plans. Of course, it was not all smooth sailing as unfortunately the alternator seized mid project and I had to drive the digger back to Adelaide and pick up a replacement meaning that it was a very exhausting week and a half. The hire company we used were very helpful though and made sure that we were looked after for the trouble we had so it was a positive experience overall.

I still wasn’t very good at taking ‘progress’ photos though so the following is really the best that we have:

Before

130425 Earthworks 1 (4) (800x600)

 

After

130429 Earthworks 1 (1) (800x600)