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The Spring shift

Pasture growth is a grazing resource and our main soil development tool. In the tree crops at this time of year we mow to set back the grass, and free up the soil and water resources for tree growth and fruiting.

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Winter grazing only removes about 50% of the leaf area, with very little root growth retardation. The pasture recovers very quickly. The spring mowing removes almost 100% of the pasture leaf area, and substantially sets back the grass. Grass roots die, soil microbes decompose these, and tree roots and their fungal associates then explore those former grass root pathways for nutrients.

Early Spring this year saw cool weather, rain, a full soil profile of stored water, and surplus water in the upper profile.So we let the grass in the tree rows keep growing, using that surplus moisture, and adding more root material to the orchard soil.

Timing of the main Spring mowing depends mostly on water availability …. is the soil moisture better used for more grass growth, or saved for the trees?
Other factors we consider are
– availability of pasture for the goats, and of mown pasture for chicken forage
– very dense and vigorous grass growth competing with the trees…. size of trees vs the grass
– reducing fire risk for the coming summer, trying to allow time for surface mulch to begin to decompose
– use the tractor and fuel as little as possible while still maintaining good production and fire safety
– attraction and hosting of pollinators in the orchard other than honeybees, and insect predators for pest control services
– forage for honeybees, mainly the pollen resource for hive increase in Spring from capeweed daisy Arctotheca calendula

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This very dense grass growth among smaller trees in the olive grove was probably beginning to compete with the trees.

Closing circles

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Digging out the deep litter in the chook yard for use in the kitchen gardens. This wonderful rich compost soil will be great food for the soil micro organisms and for our veggies! The chooks really appreciate me digging around in the yard, a lot of compost worms are contributing to the chooks’ protein needs these days. I turn the litter a day before removing it to let the chooks scratch through it and eat all they want, since compost worms don’t survive in the gardens beds anyway.

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In the second half of the chook yard there’s the mountain of weeds I’ve been removing from the kitchen gardens the last two weeks. The chooks really like our kitchen and garden waste – brassica flowers, snails and celery seems to be their favourites. Happy, well nourished chooks reward us with more eggs!

 

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Welcome Cecilia

Our very happy news is that Cecilia Lundmark has come to live at Murrnong.

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Cecilia is an all round wonderful person who brings many skills and much awesomeness to Murrnong.

Cecilia and David were married in July, in her native Sweden.

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Grass and growth!

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7th October 2016, goats grazing and David standing in a row of pasture between 16 year old olive trees.img_0048 This was close grazed and almost bare in early May, after having been grazed 4 or 5 times through the summer. In the last 6 months of cool wet conditions, it has been grazed two more times. Other than some woodchip compost under the trees, the pasture itself has not had fertiliser added of any kind for about 16 years. No ploughing either. Just pulse grazing and pulse mowing. Annual and perennial plants go well together, combined with high impact short rotation grazing.spring-2016
Capeweed growth on orchard farm track, very little capeweed elsewhere.
Capeweed, Arctotheca calendula, can be seen flowering on the edge of the footpath in the foreground of the second photo, and on the farm track above. Capeweed is a fast growing annual that has grown well around tracks and high traffic areas, and in other places where the soil is bared. The capeweed flowers are providing pollen for the spring bee build-up, and the capeweed roots are opening and repairing the soil. If we stopped using the tracks they would heal and regenerate and revert to pasture. With continued good pasture management there is no risk of this plant invading from the tracks and taking over the pasture areas.

Grafting and queen mating flight

kate-barnwellOne of the joys of working in nature are the occasional special little moments of connection.
Kate Barnwell, fruit tree enthusiast from South Carolina, was helping us catch up on some grafting. While scoping out what we wanted to do across the whole orchard, we had admired how active and plentiful our bees are this glorious Spring.
Then about 30 minutes later we were working on this cherry plum, 200 metres from the hives, when a  cloud of bees passed right over our heads, coming from the direction of the hives.
We tried to follow them on foot, but unlike a swarm they were travelling purposefully, too fast for us to follow them far, and quickly went out of sight beyond the olive grove. The next day none of the hives showed reduced numbers, as they would have if they had given up a swarm, so it seems we were just in the right place at the right time to witness a queen and some of her admirers on their way to a drone congregation area. It felt very magical to have just been admiring the bees 30 minutes before, then to be 200 metres away and have them fly right over our heads, as if they wanted to show us what they were up to.

Parkland for the future

It is a rare opportunity to lay out a new treed parkland within a township area. What criteria to use to choose the trees and shrubs? Who will be motivated to maintain this privately owned parkland? How will the trees and grass be managed?

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David Arnold, Jim Peart and Struan Clarke on the day of planting

This 8 hectare site within Avenel village will have a 10 lot residential subdivision, Belmont Hamlet, with the greater portion of the space to become parkland. For me, David Arnold, it was a pleasure to work with Jim and Winifred Peart, the developers, on this parkland project. I have been working with Jim on occasional tree development projects since 1998.

Jim and Struan will care for these private land parkland plantings while they are young, including weeding around the trees and mechanical mowing, but such altruistic expense cannot be expected to last forever. In the longer term we had to consider how to allow the future park manager(s) to obtain a yield from this land, and how to ensure that these future managers value and appreciate the trees.

So we anticipate future grass management by grazing animals, probably sheep and/or goats. The common parkland form, of an open wooded grassland, can be ideal for grazing. We selected attractive shady long lived species, all giving a passive yield of shade for animals and people, and most of which also give a direct grazing and possible human food yield. So… a number of hardy oak (Quercus) species for acorns, Carobs, also for autumn fodder supplement, Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus) which can give foliage fodder, plus some Boree (Acacia pendula), and a few Peppercorn trees (Schinus molle). A mix of regional natives and introduced species. Ecosynthesis.

Internship information

Update – 20th May 2016: an opportunity has opened up for a suitable person or people to visit here over the next three weeks or so. Accommodation indoors (not tents this time), and a range of autumn tasks, including care of milking goats and tree shelterbelt maintenance, hence happy times harvesting firewood, burning dry sticks, chipping green branches, and finding delicious mushrooms along the way!

This is a permaculture small farm on the edge of Violet Town, just 800m from the train station. The farm is well established, as most tree planting was done between 1996 and 2000. WWOOF host since 1999.

We have a large established fruit and nut orchard, an olive grove, vegetable gardens, chickens, milking goats, bees, forestry for shelter and timber, and large dam for irrigation and swimming. Our house is made of timber and mudbrick, and we catch our own water.

The fruit and nut orchard gives fresh fruit all year round, with a peak in summer, and the veggie gardens are planted with different crops at different times of the year. Delicious organic produce is always available on site, following seasonal variations, and includes: peaches, apricots, plums, pears, apples, cherries, figs, loquats, feijoa, pecans, walnuts, almonds, avocados, oranges, lemons, mandarins, pine nuts, carobs, a range of vegetables for each season, honey, cheese, olive oil, table olives, and home killed or hunted meat.

We are self-reliant and prepare meals mainly with what is available on the property, which allows for creativity in the kitchen, cooking meals on our wood stove (in cooler weather) and on cooktop or in solar cooker in summer. Preparing & sharing meals all together is an important part of our lifestyle here and you will be encouraged to fully participate in those warm, sociable moments. We eat a mixed diet, with many non-meat meals.

About 60% of helpers’ time goes toward your and our own food supply and housing, which feels good; self-reliance before commercial.

Type of jobs: farm and garden work, combined with learning, and share of household tasks, including food preparation from farm ingredients. We appreciate help with caring for our vegie gardens & orchard, with our goats and chickens, with cheese making and other food processing (tapenade, preserves, etc.), with home food harvesting and preparation, with fruit picking and grading, with beekeeping and honey extraction, forestry, with beer brewing and bottling, and sometimes with building and building maintenance. Summer routine includes putting on a stall at a farmers’ market most weekends, which visitors may help with, or come along for the ride, by arrangement. Weekends are mostly free time other than a share of basic animal and watering tasks.

Bicycles, internet, and small library of self-reliance/permaculture books available. David teaches and consults in permaculture.

Travel to here is easy: 2hrs from Melbourne by train directly to Violet Town Station or pick up from Benalla if coming on the NSW Countrylink train.

Minimum stay 2 weeks, longer can be better. Longer stays by arrangement after the first week.

Please make initial contact by email. In your application, or on your profile, please ensure that you outline your work experience, what study you have done, your skills, passions and interests, and include at least one photo of you. References or positive helpx reviews are helpful.

Helping here suits people who have a work ethic, enjoy being active and productive doing well organised work, and are seriously interested in sustainable living and organics. In order to guarantee an optimum experience both for us and for you, we expect you to demonstrate maturity and be independent and proactive in household tasks, and experienced/comfortable with communal living, which requires an open minded, tolerant and flexible attitude towards others.

See also internship overview and internship testimonials