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.

orchard

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

olives

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.

Checking out the bees

Its been a difficult summer for the bees here at Violet Town this year, and for a lot of inland Victoria. There has not been much nectar flow available for the bees to make honey with. The Murrnong bees have remained healthy, with plenty of pollen, and plenty of brood. It is lucky that we left plenty of honey in the hives, because the girls have kept consuming their stored honey even through summer, when we usually hope to see them bringing in fresh honey. 2015 saw only 280mm of rain here, way down from the 625mm yearly average, so it has been tough for the plants, and one plant survival strategy is not to flower in dry conditions.

Mary holding a frame for inspection

Mary from the February Backyard Bees course is holding up a frame of healthy brood. 

Some bee keepers have been moving their hives for better forage elsewhere, and some have been feeding sugar syrup. We were just at the point of feeling we needed to move our hives, when Grey Box, E. microcarpa, started flowering. Fortunately, with 125mm of rain here between Christmas and end of January, there seems to have been enough moisture available for the Grey Box to put nectar in their flowers. So.. phew, when we are around the hives, we can again smell the sweet scent of nectar and fresh honey.

The next Backyard Bees hands on workshop is on Sunday March 20th.

Produce no waste

The 2015 2016 Murrnong PDC is happening over seven weekends, one weekend a month, focusing on one of the 12 design principles each day.

Here we were looking at how the wood chip compost at Murrnong takes branches and prunings from forest and orchard, combined with goat bedding wastes and occasional other goodies, and lets the composty critters work on it for more than one year. This produces beautiful wood chip compost to go back to the food producing tree crops. No waste.

Shae checking out the compost

opening up wood chip compost

Getting Started or Getting Better with Honey Bees

Backyard Bees 20th March 2016 A4

Keeping even just one hive of bees in your backyard can give a big surplus of honey, do wonderful things for the pollination and productivity of your garden, and can also help to make sure we have plenty of healthy bees for the future. A well placed and well managed bee hive, with the flight path out of people’s way, can be nothing but a positive. The first your neighbors might know about the hive you have had for the last six months could be when you give them a jar of honey. Felix and Grace bees in street

Felix and Grace Arnold excited and a little nervous about this bee swarm that their Dad was about to collect from a little bush in Violet Town in 2006

Bees are under stress around the world, bee numbers are down, the Varroa mite will probably get to Australia one day, and the neonicotinoid pesticides, so toxic to bees, continue to be used. Species diversity in large scale agricultural regions is now too low to feed bees through the year. In the apple and pear orchards of south west China, bees have been eradicated by pesticide use and habitat loss, and people have to do pollination (the free work of bees) by hand, with a feather and little bags of pollen. In Australia, beekeepers are paid to truck their bees in to pollinate horticultural crops.

There is species diversity in towns and home gardens, though. These are now an important bee forage resource. Backyard bees mostly feed from a different forage resource to commercially kept bees. The garden plants benefit, and we get the honey. Towns can provide a surplus of bees to support the surrounding agriculture or horticulture.

Backyard bee keepers often collect ‘wild’ bee swarms, and so are potentially working with a broader range of genetics in bees than is possible when all the bee queens are commercially bred. This is important to allow for continual evolution and adaptation among bees.

In Australia bees kept in backyards, or on rooftops in the city, generally have less exposure to insecticides than when bees are used for pollination in agriculture.

With their smaller scale, less commercial pressure, and hives kept mostly in one place, backyard bee keepers have opportunities to experiment and innovate with their bee keeping practices. All of this can contribute to a bee keeping culture of continuous improvement, and a healthy increase in bee numbers. 

Getting Started or Getting Better with Bees with David Arnold, Sun 20th March 2016, Violet Town, $60 murrnong.com  

murrnong@gmail.com,   ph. 5798 1679OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ready for hive inspections at the Murrnong March 2015 Backyard Bees workshop.