Jan 28

View a list of Plants

You can now click the link on the left of this page under bookmarks to view all the plants we have purposefully introduced to our farm.
All of their planned purposes are described when you click in the details of each plant.
I am currently working on My Garden Pal to be able to search for plants by the permaculture uses but it’s a few months away as yet.

   Jan 19

Time to put down roots

With the earth surgery finished the real work has just begun.   over the Christmas/New Year period it was quite wet here in South East Queensland, and our property received its fair share of rainfall.  As such it was important to get leguminous cover crops planted on the new swales as soon as possible to prevent erosion and start the process of generating usable soil.

I had cow pea on order for a few weeks to use for this, but being the end of an old year and start of a new, most businesses were still in go slow mode.  So I only just got the cowpea last week.  I didn’t want to wait though so I threw a bag of parrot feed over the swales which had a mix of all sorts of things in there such as sun flower seeds, millet, corn and other grains.  After a few days things were sprouting and already the swales have a green tinge to them.  Although, it has now been a while since rain and the swale mounds have gone back to being as concrete as the ground they were dug from.

For mulch I sourced four Lucerne ’rounds’.  These are those big round hay bails you see if ever you drive inland.  I am told they are the equivalent of about 14 of the normal lucerne ‘squares’ but it is much more economical to buy them this way.  Cost was $55 delivered where the cheapest square bales I could find were about $10/bail.  Three of them were enough to cover all the swales with one left for mulching around trees when we start planting.  Of course one can never get enough organic material so I emailed a bunch of local lawn mower guys asking them if they would dump their clippings here rather than pay to take them to the dump.  So far no response, but I’ll keep trying to find someone willing.

The (innoculated) cowpea, buckwheat (oh, yea, I also through down some millet, just because I had it) were all just scattered sown.  Literally just grabbing a handful of seed from the bucket and throwing it out like feeding the chooks.  We then raked this in a little and through the lucerne over it.  I also through down a few bags of gypsum which acts to de-flocculate clay (sold at Bunnings as Clay Breaker) but not sure on how that will go.  I guess time will tell.

A few days on I have picked up a heap of different plants from Justin at Urban Edens on the Gold Coast.  We spent last couple of days getting these into the ground.  At this point I need to mention that my profession is in IT, so I’m not really used to digging holes dawn to dusk – any volunteers to give me a massage?

Although it is quite exhausting (and I still ache all over!) I am getting a great sense of contentment from this.  I feel much more connected to my property now, and nature in general.

Some of the things I have been planting are:

  • Cassava
  • Sweet potato
  • Lemon grass
  • Vietiver grass
  • Galangal
  • Ginger
  • Cana edulis

I’ve also potted HUNDREDS of nitrogen fixing and other trees that I am growing from seed.  These include:

  • Agati
  • Tree Lucerne
  • Cassia multijuga
  • Albizia lebbek
  • Tamarindus indica
  • Moringa (miracle tree!)
  • and plenty of othes

I’ll give a full species list soon as a downloadable attachment rather than fill these posts with long lists of plants.  Suffice to say there are lots of seedlings growing and lots more holes to be dug once they are ready to be transplanted.

Below is a mud map of our property and a very rough idea of where things are being planted.  You should be able to click on it to get a larger view.

Note that we have donated the top half of the property to ‘Land for Wildlife’, so it will remain native bush for now.

Mud map

Mud map of property

       Jan 03

    Dam 2.0

    The site for the second dam on the property is on the hill just above the horse arena area.  On the ridge above the horse arena is an access

    dam site 2.0

    Dam site for higher dam

    road that traverses across the property from the main driveway and connects with the new lower dam wall to make a continuous driveway from the new entry all the way to just above our house where it merges with our existing driveway.

    Above this road, just above the horse arena (which I will  call the community garden area henceforth) is where the new dam has been created.  This area was chosen as it will capture the spill from the swales higher up the hill, and can gravity feed water down to the community garden area for irrigation.

    This dam has a short swale on either side to feed into the dam, and one of them also acts as the spillway once the dam is full.  Water from the spillway then flows down to the lower dam.

    Dam site 2

    Another dam site view

    This dam is a long football shape so it fits nicely across the hill.

    dam begins

    Scratching out the new dam

    The final product was actually quite bigger than I had imagined.  It is about two meters deep to water line with about 750cm of freeboard (the wall above water height) which is hard to tell from the photos as their is no perspective.  I’d estimate this dam will hold about 70,000+ litres of water when full.  The bottom dam is a little smaller so probably about 60,000 litres in that one.  The point is that this is over 130,000 litres of water that is captured for irrigation (not counting what is captured by the swales) that would have just flowed away taking top soil and nutrients with it.

    We have scatter sown a bunch of ground cover plants over the outer wall of the dam (same as we put onto the swale – a full species list of all the plants we used will be the subject of another post).  These will hopefully take root before we have a major storm to stabilise the wall and prevent erosion.  We will be planting lemon grass seedlings along here as well within the next week or two which will slow down water flowing off of the dam wall.

    dam finished

    Finished dam

    We have not had a rain event since this higher dam went in so it is still empty.  I’ll post photos of it when it is full.

    Dam wall

    Dam wall above driveway

    One further point about these two new dams.  There was a lot of rock to dig through to create them (thank goodness we had a 20 ton excavator!) but more importantly there was plenty of clay so they should be sealed quite well.  As the dam was dug, about ever 30cm of wall height the excavator operator would change the bucket for a big round compression tool and use this to get almost 100% compression.  So these dam walls are very solid made from a mix of rock and clay.  I can’t wait for this one to fill up.

    Later today we are transplanting some lilies from our existing dam into the already full new lower dam.  The lilies help to slow down evaporation, attract wild life, and of course also look pretty.

       Jan 03


    dam site

    Lower dam site

    One of the goals for our water catchment was to create two new dams on the property.  The first of these is in an area at the bottom of the property where there was a considerable erosion.  Most of the water running down the hill is channeled through this area before leaving the property via a ‘summer creek’ that runs along the lowest point of our land.

    new lower dam

    Lower dam after first rain event

    This area is at the foot of the existing horse arena, just off of the road and about 2 meters lower than the road vertically.  The area has a few coco’s palms and eucalyptus trees.  One of our goals is to convert the horse arena into a large flat garden with about half of this to be used as a community garden.  Putting a dam in this area close to the arena and just off of the road opened up the idea  of making a new entrance to the property for the community gardeners to use.  The wall of the new dam going into this area would be the driveway.

    The day after the new dam is finished we get rain.  And it continues to rain for the next few days putting a hold on other earthworks.  I was actually hoping to have a few weeks without rain to allow

    Dam spillway v1

    Dam spillway version 1

    the new dam to ‘bake in’ if that makes any sense.  Probably not, but this is how I pictured it in my head.  The quite heavy rain event was actually great as it showed us that, hey the dam holds water, and that it does indeed capture most of the current run off from the hill.  The first version of the spill way from this dam was a v-drain (see photo) which we changed to a flat spillway after this first rain.

    spillway v2

    Spillway version 2

    The dam wall is still about a meter below the road height making the ramp up to the road quite steep.  When wet this is quite slippery so we are intending on getting in a load of builders rubble (broken bits of concrete taken from construction sites) to press into the top of the wall.  This will provide a much harder surface to drive on.

    On the lower side of the dam our neighbours had already planted a creeping bamboo, presumably to block their view of the mess that was there before the dam was built.  I love bamboo and this stuff was already starting to spread to cover the area between the dam wall and the property line.  It should look great once it grows up.

    Bamboo along fence

    Bamboo along fence

    Bamboo with dam

    Bamboo with dam

    We intend to put in more clumping bamboo in various places around the property.  It makes for a great wind break and privacy screen and can be used for all sorts of things from fencing to irrigation pipes.  And it looks great!

    This lower dam is now full after a week of rain, and the spillway is working as planned.  So far so good.  Once we get the builders rubble spread over the top of the wall we will start driving over it to see how it fairs.  The excavator used this driveway as its exit path to get off of the property.

    Here are a few more photos of the dam at various stages.


       Jan 02

    Sweet Swales

    There is no sweeter sight than a swale on contour.  OK, there are probably lots of other sweeter sights, but still, it is a fine sight, especially after our initial efforts.


    Swale perfection!

    Having the swales pegged out made it much easier for the excavator to take the right path across the hill, and the operator, armed with new knowledge did an excellent job of fixing up the bad swales and turning them into a thing of beauty (yes, I need to get out more).

    Notice how wide the bed of the swale is now compared to the photos in the last post, and how they are on contour across the hill.  This is how a swale is supposed to be.  We put the overflow spill for the swales out the end so any excess water should spill out the ends and flow to a lower swale or into a dam rather than go over the swale mound and cause erosion.   Depending on your situation you might want a spillway elsewhere along the swale.  If I were to have one in the middle for example (if this was the best position for whatever reason), I’d probably line the spillway with rock to prevent erosion due to the steepness of my land, but the way we have these spilling out the ends should work well.  A rain event will answser that question, at which point we can fine tune.


    Worried Koala

    During the earth surgery we did have to lose a few trees, but as we will be adding at least 1000 new ones so I wasn’t too concerned, plus from a permaculture perspective the resident eucalyptus trees weren’t too useful.  We will be putting in many ‘nitrogen fixing’ trees (primarily legumes) that will help renew the soil as we chop and drop the foliage to create compost and release the nitrogen from the tree roots back into the soil.  In addition to the new trees, we have voluntarily segragated off about 3 acres of the property got the ‘Land for Wildlife’ program.  This means we leave this land as native bush so native flora and fauna can still thrive.  The koala in the photo might have been a little worried though, with a giant yellow tree eater stomping around.

    more swales

    Swales next to driveway

    The swales in the photo to the right capture the water running down our driveway.  The driveway has drains that now feed into the swale rather than just running over the ground.

       Dec 26

    Chicken Feed

    I think I mentioned I bought some chickens recently.  Of course we have had chickens before but they kept ending up dead.  From the last batch of three chickens there is only  one survivor – a tough old chick who has taken over the dog bed as her nest.  One egg a day wasn’t cutting it for our a family of four (plus the odd long stay visitor), so it was time to get more chicks.

    To try to give them a chance to live at least until egg laying age I put the fluffy little yellow things in a cordoned off area in my office (a granny flat separate from the main house).  The stink soon got to me so after a week or two it was time to move them to the chook house proper.  My daughter Sai and I did a good survey of the chook pen.  We covered the top to keep the hawks we saw circling out, we

    Full snake

    Full snake

    covered up all the holes to keep the snakes out, and poked around in the pen to make sure all was nice and safe for the little fellows.

    Ten chicks go in, four come out.  There was a hungry python hidden in the chook house (how we missed it I have no idea) and when

    I went up the next day to check on them I find one very fat snake.

    I managed to catch it and put it in a box and let it go in the bush about 10 kilometers away.  Hopefully it won’t find its way back looking for another easy feed.

    snake boxed

    Snake in a box

    Here he is in the box.  He (or she?) wasn’t too happy and had a strike at my daughter, but luckily missed his target, before I put the lid on.

    He was moving pretty slow when I dumped him in the bush.  I guess having six chickens in your gut will slow you down.

    free snake

    Free snake!

       Dec 24

    Disaster strikes!

    So, I’ve had a chat to the excavator operator, had him read through the plan Craig from the Permaculture Institure created for us, and walked him around the whole property explaining what I wanted.  At this stage I have an image in my head as to what it is I want that has come from Craigs plan and all the conversations with him and others who were helping with the design.  Things I didn’t know are:

    1. Anything at all about earthworks
    2. Anything at all about surveying
    3. What ‘on-contour’ really meant
    4. What the end result really should look like
    5. Where my hat was (its hot out here walking around with this guy)

    So, the operator has read the doc, had the walk, and nodded at all the right times.  I’m happy and off I go to do my own work expecting things just to magically happen.  This thing is noisy so I grab the kids (its school holidays) and we head off to Bunnings to pick up a few things, and go to the pet supply store and end up buying 10 new chickens (another story for another post so stay tuned).

    While I’m out I get a phone call from my friend Matt who is also planning to “Permaculturise” his property.  He decided to drop in while I

    bad swale

    Swale disaster 1

    was out and he is saying something about being scared.  I get back home 20 mins later and Matt has put a stop to the swale building and got the operator to start work on one of the dams.  He then drags me up the hill to show me the swales and proceeds to explain what ‘on contour’ means and how these were not even close!  Oh no!

    As can be seen from the photo, the swale travels down the hill at an angle rather than across on contour.  This is very evident as we had a shower of rain and the water is sitting in the lower belly of the swale rather than spread evenly across it.

    bad swale 2

    Bad swale 2

    As mentioned in my previous post, the idea of the swale is to slow down water rushing down the hill, and capture it so it can seep into the landscape.  With the short rain squall we had the day I took these photos it is clear to see that these swales were not up to the task we intended them for.

    Actually, the rain was fortunate as it provided a good visual for the excavator operator.  After we explained what we wanted he ‘got it’.  However, we determined that the best thing to do was get hold of a dumpy level and peg out the contour.  As I said, this is common sense when you have any clue about this sort of thing, and I should have done it prior to any work.  I was starting to learn, and so was the operator.

    As luck would have it Matt’s neighbour was a civil engineer and was kind enough to loan us his surveying equipment (the aforementioned dumpy level).  So Matt and I spent a few hours pegging out how the swales should run.  This meant the ones already cut had to be remodelled, but it turned out this wasn’t a big deal other than a few extra hours I had to pay for.

    In my next post I’ll show some photo’s of how a swales is supposed to look!

       Dec 21

    The Plan

    In my last post I made reference to a water catchment plan based on Permaculture principals.  Today I want to explain in a little more detail of what we are intending to do to help transform our property from a ‘bush block’ to a permaculture based organic farm that will one day produce enough food for us to be self sufficient (at least vege-wise).

    In order to transform the hard rocky ground to fertile soil we need to halt the rapid ‘sheet’ flow of water, and try to capture as much as possible rather than let it just run off the property taking any nutrients with it.   So the goal is to slow down the flow of water and prevent erosion, and also capture water so it can slowly soak into the ground.   As our property is relatively steep it was determined the best way to slow the water flow down would be to cut a number of swales across the hill on countour so that the water sits in the swale and from here seeps into the ground.  Also, over time the swale will fill with organic material that will break down into a rich compost.

    We also wanted to capture as much of the water as we could, so we planned on putting two additional dams in place as well as making our existing dam bigger.  All of this was planned out by Craig from the Permaculture Institute in northern NSW.

    Having a plan is good.  As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.  But it is also very important to make sure your earth works contractor understands the plan.  As we found out, most earth works folks are not familiar with the idea of having swales on contour.  Unless they have experience with permaculture, or keyline type earth surgery, they are more than likely experienced working on civil projects such as cutting in new roads, or new housing estates and the like.  With these ‘normal’ civil projects they try to take water away from the site, the exact opposite of what we want to do here.  So it is REALLY important to make sure your earth works contractor really understands what you want before he starts to operate on your property.  I found this out the hard way.  I was sure the excavator operator knew what I was saying, but it turns out we were not on the same page.  When I said “swale,” he heard “swale drain”, even though I said I wanted them on contour and that I was trying to retain the water.  It just didn’t sink in, at least not at first.

    Survey Pegs

    Survey pegs on-contour

    Lesson:  Mark out where you want the earth works to be.

    A common sense thing to do before any earth works are started is to get a dumpy level (surveying tool that measures contour levels) to peg out exactly where you want to place the swales and dams.  This will ensure your swales are on-contour (meaning flat across the hill so water will sit level in the swale across the length of the swale).  I have a bad habit of just jumping into things and figure it out as I go along.  As I’ll explain in a future post, this was a mistake, as I did not mark out exactly how I wanted the swales to run.  In my defence this is because I didn’t really have a clue myself.  I have never done anything like this before so figured the expert (the earth works guy) would know what I wanted when I told him and that he’d just go ahead and do it.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!

    So the take away from this is to get a dumpy level, get a friend to help you peg out the swales on countour (or, if you are not as monetarily challenged as I am, pay a surveyor to do it for you).  I was lucky enough to have a good friend who had access to the surveying equipment, and the brains to know how to use it (thanks Matt!).  So after a false start (next blog entry I’ll discuss this), we pegged out all places that needed to be cut which made life much easier for the excavator driver.

       Dec 18

    Earth Surgery Needed



    Being a property on the side of a hill, and formerly having horses as tenants, our property has hard, stony, dry compacted earth.  For us to have any hope of growing anything other than natives we needed to perform some major earth surgery!

    Hard ground

    Try digging into this!

    With water catchment plan in had (designed by Craig Gallagher from the Permaculture Institute) it was time to bring in the ultimate big boys toys – earth moving equipment!

    Being a thrifty soul, and having a thirst for adventure, my first thought was to go and buy a small excavator (I was thinking around 3 tons), do the work myself, then sell the machine – hopefully for a profit – with the end result being free earthworks.

    However, there were two problems with this approach.

    1.  I know absolutely nothing about earthworks or the tools to use (and after watching a professional I probably would have killed myself in the process)

    2.  It turns out that the 3 ton excavator I was intending to buy would have been “no better than using a bucket and crowbar” (I’ll explain why below)

    I’m lucky enough to have friends from a variety of backgrounds, one with way more experience at this sort of thing that me, who quickly talked me out of this foolishness and set me up with a good price from a local earthworks contractor.  Two days later a truck turns up with a 20 ton excavator on the back.   When I told the driver of my original plan to buy my own 3 tonner and do it myself, he just laughed and made the comment about the bucket and crowbar I quoted above.  You see, there is a LOT of rock we needed to cut through and this HUGE digger even had moments of hesitation trying to get through some of it.  More on this in another post…

    Another tip for anyone about to transform their property as radically as we are is to take lots of photos before, during and after the process.  You will be astounded at the changes and it is great to look back on how things used to be (assuming it all goes to plan!).

    In the spirit of this I am posting a few “Before” photos below so that you will have a good indication of the dramatic change in the landscape of our property as I post more entries.  As we go I’ll try to match up a before and after photo to give a better indicator of the changes taking place.  Although one mistake I made was to not establish point-of-view positions to take photos from the same perspective everytime so the change would be very evident.

    top paddock

    Top paddock

    Looking up the hill

    Looking up the hill

    Towards house from road

    For my next post I’ll describe the plan in more detail, and provide updates on the earth surgery.

       Dec 11

    The Greening of the desert II

    The foundations and workings of the permaculture way that we are going to implement on our property can be visualised in this video “Greening of the Desert II“.  This video is about half and hour long and shows the process of permaculture on a desert property in Jordan.  The property was first developed with permaculture 10 years ago and was viewed world wide in “The Greening of the Desert”.  Now this video gives a recap on the initial design and then revisits the property in October ’09 and catches up with what has happened 6 years later.

    A must see video for anyone that cares about the future of our world.