we have a little list..

2016/08/14 deej 0

Last weekend, the auto-waterers for the chicken coops went in. K spent most of Sunday digging and cutting sections of hose, attaching taps and connectors and the float-valve controlled water dishes to each of our coops. We have two up-cycled 200 L plastic olive barrels as the water reservoirs, which should only need refilling every couple’ve weeks even in summer. It’s a pretty big item to tick off the to-do list, because making sure the poultry have access to fresh water all day every day through summer is a real pain when using the standard pet-shop waterers (max size: 10 L; max lifetime: 2 yrs of UV before they crack and leak). And the chickens are our only actual productive farm element so far, so it feels good to get them sorted out. Especially since they’ve started laying again.

 

This weekend the coops got sand to cover the incredibly awful muddy muck that the ‘deep litter’ had turned into with the rain, and corrugated iron roofing over half the run area so there’s some outside space which will be mostly dry in the rain and shaded in the summer. Neither of those things were on the list, but they should have been. The next actual list item is doors for the quail cages, and fully enclosing the chicken runs to make them fox proof (as opposed to merely fox resistant, which they are now).

 

On the water-related front, the next big thing (other than getting the last water tank in, and placing a 10,000 L fire tank near the gate) is setting up some auto-watering for the fruit trees. Another few olive barrels and some drip lines, ideally with auto-timers, would save us hours and hours of work every evening through the middle of summer. Last summer we watered the fruit trees by hand, with watering cans, every day.

 

The list is a little daunting, but it’s good to have the entire list of things to do up as well. It’s stuck on the pantry door, and every time we finish something, it gets crossed off the list. We brainstormed all the things we could think of that we need to do, and agreed that until next year no new items can be added to the list. So it will get smaller, and we won’t have the despair of trying to catch up with an ever-growing list. We started with 95 items on the list, and we’ve completed 9 so far (with another 3 or 4 which are almost completed, but not quite). There are quite a few items which are in progress, too. It seems slow, but – like watching trees grow – these things do take time. We’re getting there.

Rain and fog

2016/07/18 deej 0

I recently learned (due to a whim of curiosity during the morning commute, and the availability of Google at all times of day, except for one stretch along said commute which has no mobile phone signal) the difference between mist and fog. Fog, apparently, is ground-level cloud, while mist is something that rises from the ground (or bodies of water). Now, every time I see one or the other I have to hesitate for a moment while my brain refreshes and I remember which is which. Currently, this is every morning – it’s been a misty winter so far.

 

Our rainfall for June was slightly below average, May was about average, and April was almost double the average (69 mm against an average  of 36 mm for the month). It’s an unexpectedly wet winter for what was predicted to be an El Niño year (although the current outlook says it’s El Niño neutral in the Pacific ocean, with a negative Indian Ocean Dipole emerging -0 all of which indicates that we should expect average or above average rainfall); our rainfall for the year to date has been 496 mm, and the annual mean is only 663 mm.

 

I’ve always been interested in weather and climatic patterns. In primary school I learned what the different types of clouds look like and what they mean, and how to read a weather chart (high pressure systems, low pressure systems, fronts, etc.), which was fascinating. As an aside, I seriously think that geography/social studies for kids should include this stuff, and I think it’s real shame that the current Australian curriculum doesn’t. I remember being bitterly disappointed with social studies (aka history/geography mashed into one subject) when I arrived in Australia at age 12 and started school here.

 

Having a farm makes that interest more personal. Having a farm with no mains water connection makes it deeply personal. The length of my showers and my decision to put in a composting toilet rather than a water-guzzling flush toilet (the average Australian toilet uses about 20,000 L of water per year in flushes) have a measurable effect on how much water I have left for everything else for the summer – and I get to decide how to best use that water.

 

So the last few days of wet weather, we’ve been watching the rain with this warm, contented joy as it hydrates the soil, waters the trees, and fills our water tanks. And then with increasing concern as it completely fills the water tanks, overflows, and starts washing away the soil near by. (Overflow control is now in place! Trenches dug, pipes laid, overflow connectors of weird sizes connected, and the overflow from the big tank piped off to the empty small tank. Which is already two thirds full – so more piping and trench digging this week.)

 

A failure of marketing

2012/10/05 deej 0

In a dry(ish) climate like ours, water is life. Where there is water, plants grow and animals (and people) thrive. This is fairly obvious to anyone who’s experienced our baking hot summers.

Gallifrey isn’t on mains water, so even if we wanted to use the output of the dams and the desalination plants, we can’t. The water in the deep aquifer is fully allocated for agriculture in the area, so we aren’t allowed to sink a deep bore or well. We are allowed to sink a shallow bore, and according to our neighbours the water isn’t saline, but drinking water from the shallow aquifer isn’t recommended – “not saline” has a variety of meanings in WA, and most of them aren’t good for human kidneys in the long term – and it’s a horribly unsustainable use of the resource. So we’re basically reliant on rainwater.

That’s not as bad as many people around Perth seem to think. We get 500 – 700mm of rain per year; the official average is closr to 700mm, but the real current average is closer to 600mm, or 500mm in a bad year. That’s a lot of water if you have tanks to keep it in. Easily enough to live on, and keep a kitchen garden going if we’re careful.

Water tanks, though. In WA, people seem to buy either plastic water tanks or Aquaplate steel tanks. Aquaplate is galvanised steel with a plastic membrane bonded ot the inside, for those who don’t know. Neither of these options appeals to me. I know that the plastic is food grade, approved by all the regulatory bodies, but I just don’t like the idea of long term water storage in plastic. How many years did we have BPA in most of our plastics before we discovered that BPA is seriously toxic? Plastic is too new a material, and there are too many potential toxins, known and unknown, for me to be comfortable with plastic being in direct contact with all my drinking water. Call me a conspiracy theorist – and if nothing toxic has been discovered in these plastics in 30 years, I’ll say you were right.

Plastic tanks also have very poor fire resistance. Since we are in a bushfire prone area, that’s also a factor.

So, you can also buy old fashioned galvanised steel tanks without the plastic liner. It’s unusual, but you can get them. These are well known for being unreliable – they corrode and spring leaks very quickly. And they’re plated with zinc, which probably isn’t ideal for drinking water either.

If you’re prepared to get fancy, you can buy concrete tanks, either precast or poured in place. These tanks are massive, and once the concrete has cured they don’t leach anything more dangerous than some lime into the water (which changes the pH of the water, but not significantly). However, concrete isn’t 100% waterproof – water molecules wick their way intot he concrete unless you use toxic admixtures to waterproof the concrete or put a plastic liner inside the tank. These water molecules aren’t a big deal – you don’t lose much water that way – except to the steel rebar with which concrete tanks are reinforced. Water causes steel to rust, and rust takes up more space than the original steel, and then you get cracks. Which allow more water in, which causes more rust, which causes more cracking. Of course you could use something other than steel to reinforce the tank structure – but no one does. I have no idea why not.

Concrete tanks can also crack due to the temperature differential between the inside of the tank, which is cool and wet, and the outside of the tank which is exposed to sunlight. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get around that except shading the tank, and possibly insulating th eoutside of it.

The final commonly used material for water tanks is stainless steel. The stuff your kitchen sink is made out of. It doesn’t corrode (well, it does, but very slowly, giving it a 40 – 70 year lifespan), crack or leak, and it doesn’t leach toxins into the water. It’s durable, and although the seals (usually made from equally inert silicone) can be damaged by fire, the tank itself shouldn’t be harmed. It’s not even much more expensive than a plastic or Aquaplate tank, and can be less expensive than a concrete tank. But.. it’s completely unavailable in WA.

The manufacturers of stainless steel tanks have failed so miserably to tell the public about how much better their product is than the competition that a lot of them don’t get enough sales to keep them in business. Certainly not enough to encourage other people to get into the business. There are two manufacturers in QLD, and another two somewhere in NSW or VIC, and one in TAS. None of them are willing to even give me a quote to ship or freight a tank over to WA. There used to be two manufacturers in WA, maybe more, but they went out of business. Not enough interest in a product which is clearly better than the alternatives, with a longer lifespan. People just don’t think of stainless steel, or if they do think of it they assume it’ll be impossibly expensive.

That is what I call a failure of marketing. Also, very frustrating. Not sure yet what the solution is.

Permie Porn!

2012/06/18 kai 0

It’s finally the rainy season here in Perth! We’ve been waiting for this for a while now and the first serious rains started up about a month ago. I meant to post this earlier but life has conspired to keep me busy. We were eagerly waiting the first big rains as it would be the first big test of the swales we spent so much time working on over the last few months. Our first visit up after the major storm was actually for our house warming night up on the land with the bonfire (We made up for the lack of house with extra warm).

We arrived fairly early in the day to set things up and get some work done. As we pulled up I found myself quite anxious with worry that the swales might not have held, or they hadn’t worked somehow or washed away. D often says I’m a nervous parent and I suspect she’s right. When we pulled into the property I noticed a strange black line about half way up the swales. My head went into panic mode. Was it a slip? Were they separating? Was it erosion? What was it!?!

Then it suddenly occurred to me.. it was a high water mark! They worked! They captured the run off, held it and then let it soak into the land where they were. SUCCESS! I will admit to dancing a small jig when I saw them and you can see the wonder for yourself. There was much rejoicing. They are performing their required duty perfectly. They are capturing the water and just as importantly the silt in the bottom is rich and soil-y and dark. Things are already growing merrily in them and the broad beans and lupens and nitrogen fixers are growing all over them like mad. We couldn’t be more pleased.

Our Permaculture teacher arrived on site later in the evening and exclaimed with glee when she saw them. She declared it “Permaculture porn” and seductively stuck her finger in it before declaring. “It’s wet!” Clearly we hang out with crazy permies.

The bonfire night was amazing fun and I was so full of happy and joy to be surrounded by family and friends on our land and with the growth of winter starting around us. I can’t think of a happier place to be and people I’d rather be with.

Next time, we might even be able to lay on some food from the property.

Trees and Water

2012/05/15 deej 2

No scheme water, and no bore or rainwater tanks in place, made irrigation over the summer a very labour intensive task. So every weekend we filled up a couple’ve barrels with water and drove them up to Gallifrey, then manually transferred the water to the water tubes around each of the trees using watering cans.

We tried a few water containers, and experiment showed that the recycled plastic olive barrels fitted with taps were the best. The flexible plastic water bladders that we tried first didn’t hold much water, and sprung leaks after two or three uses. The plastic slimline rainwater tank from Bunnings was better, but the lid didn’t seal, and the tap attachment wouldn’t take a regular hose, meaning that we had to siphon water out from the top. Slow.

It could have been worse; our neighbour thought we were manually watering each of the tree seedlings every weekend. The water tube tree guards were a life saver; they’re UV resistant plastic tree guards with a built-in 20L water bladder and a dripper in the base. The water drips out slowly over (in theory) 2 weeks. In hot weather the water in the water tube expands, forcing the drip rate to increase, while in cooler weather and at night when the plant requires less water the drip rate decreases.

So far, we have four fig trees (Ficus carica), all different varieties, two pomegranates (Punica granatum), a natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), an acerola cherry (Malpighia glabra), two honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos), a baby boab (Adansonia gregorii), three kei apples (Dovyalis caffra), and four moringas (Moringa oleifera) planted. Those are the food trees. Yes, boabs count as food trees. There are also two oak trees (Quercus spp., acorns collected from Stirling Gardens in Perth), a dieback resistant jarrah seedling (Eucalyptus marginata) that a friend gave us, a few dozen wattles, mainly Acacia victoria, but also some Acacia acuminata and Acacia pycnantha, a few pink siris (Albizia julibrissin), and one or two black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia).


The plan is to plant a shelter belt around the entire perimeter, inside the mandatory firebreak, consisting of thorny natal plum, kei apple, boysenberry (Rubus x boysenberry) and sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), as well as fire retardant trees like oaks, maples, sweetgum, hazel and prickly pear. Eventually, it will be a noise buffering fire barrier in the form of a hedgerow. Inside that will be a secondary firebreak, planted with grain and meadow plants in winter, and space loving succulents and vegetables like squash in the summer. Inside that will be the forest, and the house.