A ‘Grand Design’ it isn’t, but the Yarnauwi farm shed has seen enough delays to make even Kevin McCloud blush. After 14 months, our simple 4-bay equipment shed is finally done. Ordered in January 2016, with the shed company suggesting an initial completion date of June 2016, this modest structure was beset with delays ranging in scale from an apocalyptic winter through to urban tradies that couldn’t quite stomach the prospect of venturing beyond suburbia.
In birthday cards I often wish the recipient a coming year of “the right kind of challenge”, optimistically suggesting it will herald positive growth and empowerment through problem-solving and negotiation. This year, I got a taste of my own medicine, with a winter of biblical proportions just the beginning of the challenges.
November marks four years since we began the Yarnauwi project. Four years of attempting to regenerate the property to our optimistic standards on the weekends, of packing and unpacking the car, of ferrying and entertaining one, then two, small children, of revegetating, managing erosion, managing pasture, managing water, managing livestock, managing weeds and managing the legacy of past land managers. These are all admirable, ambitious intentions, and what we’ve achieved has only been possible through the support and enthusiasm of our community of neighbours, friends and family. Continue reading
The first big storm saw the dam fill and rivers broaden to ten times their normal size for an afternoon. A neighbour’s creek crossing dissolved in the flow, the rock and rubble broadcast along the river bottom. The second big storm saw our rainwater tank, still awaiting a shed to fill it, lifted vertically from its nest of stardroppers, vaulting a tractor and four or five fences before being swept off in the swollen waters of the Anacotilla River, carried across two properties and wedged under a red gum. The third storm came with days of warnings, threats of winds over 120km/h and rainfall to rival all of the previous deluges. It left all of South Australia without electricity, the farm a sucking, gurgling swamp, and me walking home through a darkened, scrambling city.
It’s been a demanding few months on the farm. The persistent moisture has made the ground unworkable, most of the farm inaccessible except on foot and the weather generally hostile to both our motivation and ability to do anything useful. The vast quantities of rain we’ve received however, have meant that moisture has permeated deep into the subsoil, so we console ourselves with the hope that as the weather warms, our tree plantings (including those from earlier this winter) will rocket skywards. Continue reading
The 2016 lambing season has begun at Yarnauwi, with seven lambs dropping so far. One set of triplets, two lots of twins (with three survivors) and our first, puppy-like Damara lamb.
It’s also our first season experimenting with Manchego the Damara ram. Our initial flock were Wiltshire horns, a British breed that we found were more selective than we would’ve liked in their grazing habits, and sensitive to the exposure of our blistering summers. A few of their lambs were part Dorper, and in the culture of the flock, they’ve mimicked the habits of the Wiltshire Horn matriarchs. Continue reading
By late July this year we’ve already exceeded our entire rainfall for 2015, and for now, the rain shows no signs of abating. This is fantastic news for our revegetation efforts, and our dam is now almost full for the first time in two years. With heavy rains – we managed to top 100mm (4 inches) in a single day – it’s also a chance to test the effectiveness of the erosion control strategies we’ve employed.
With significant erosion in some key areas of the property, we’ve worked to adapt erosion control strategies such as those practised by Bill Zeedyk and Craig Sponholtz (see April’s Waterway Restoration workshop/working bee and our Resources page for more information). In particular, we’ve constructed Zuni bowls, for arresting headcuts, and One Rock Dams, to slow water flow, catch sediment and gradually lift the floor of erosion gullies. After the recent deluge, we toured the works to see how we went. The Zuni bowls have had mixed success: those in relative stable locations have been effective, those in dispersive soils have been unpredictable. The One Rock Dams (ORDs) have been generally successful, if swamped by sediment!
The impact of 100mm of rain in one day is significant: exposed areas lose significant amounts of soil (some areas of gully floor had almost 30cm of freshly deposited sediment), and areas of dispersive soil go berserk, collapsing in all directions. For some of these areas, we’re continually seeking further advice, but for those we can manage, we monitor and tweak over time, and try to “let the water do the work” in healing the landscape.
Over the June long weekend, once again our loyal crew of tree-planters descended on Yarnauwi for the fourth year of tree planting. This year we planted 600 plants, local species associated with pink and red gum woodlands.
After 3 years of planting, many patches of seedlings are now well established, and on rainfall only they’re slowly growing into the landscape. Our mission for this year was to fill in some unplanted spaces, trace windbreaks and corridors between islands of vegetation, replant tricky spots with specially selected vegetation and to expand some of our successful woodlots. Spots that we cleared junk from earlier in the year were planted out, and areas of erosion control will also be planted with sedges and reeds this season. Continue reading
Before Yarnauwi, we never really appreciated winter. Now, through the long dry season, we find ourselves yearning for a chill edge to the wind, the moisture in the grass, and skies of dark clouds. We’ve tried to plan our year to mimic the lives of so many of the organisms that occupy our landscape: in the hot, dry times, we go into maintenance mode, watching and waiting for the first rains before we spring into action again. With the greening of the landscape, it’s all on: tree-planting has begun, shed sites are levelled, the grass grows. In winter, the kangaroos converge in clans numbering hundreds, displaced from the pasture, they lounge among the seedlings in the reveg areas while we look on nervously.
After three months, our tree planting activities are finally finished for 2015. The pattern is always the same. Sophie does her best to moderate my impulses, but when the opening rains come I always seem to get a rush of chlorophyll to the head and end up with boxes of seedlings more than we could ever reasonably plant. That said, with the support of our community of family and friends, this year we planted 1000-odd trees, shrubs and ground covers, 300 grasses propagated from seed collected on the property, and still had a few boxes to give to neighbours.
We’re great fans of temporary. Not aiming for permanence tends to mean that ideas can be trialled inexpensively, can be easily changed and that learning from failure can be quick and low-impact. In that spirit, as we develop the sheep enterprise of the farm, we’ve tried to keep things low-key. For yards, we use locally-made portable panels, but when working closely with sheep, we found the mesh sides problematic due to the ease with which horns or feet can become entangled. In more established circumstances, yards would have a working race for such a purpose, but the cost of a manufactured race can be steep. It was time to get out the tools and make our own.
When the rain comes, everything changes. The soil begins to dissolve from its summer hardness, the air develops an edge, and in the damp places, centipedes awaken. After the dryness of 2014 the rain is still playing catch-up, the dam is just a puddle, and there are few places where the soil feels genuinely saturated, but it’s undoubtedly the time to start winter tasks: tree planting, trench-digging, planning.