More planning at the Fanny Farm

27 10 2017

At my neighbour’s recommendation, I have been attending a Small Farm Planning course run by the NRM, a government funded natural resource management organisation and one of three in Tasmania whose role is to protect, sustainably manage and improve our natural resources for the shared environmental, social and economic benefit of the community. I highly recommend anyone going down a similar path to ours to attend such a course……

Even though on the first Saturday I wondered what had I done; it felt like I already knew everything I was going to be told! To be fair, it seems to be largely planned for total novices, and having a Permaculture Design Certificate under my belt and ten plus years experience in Queensland means I am not really a novice, even if I am not a real farmer!

We were given an aerial map of our properties, with overlays showing what sorts of soils we had and a bunch of other stuff that I already knew very well. Other attendees were told to put clear overlays over their maps and start marking wind directions, wet areas, shading problems, fences, etc etc etc……  which is permaculture 101. I already had this done, and the look on the mapping lecturer’s face when I produced my masterplan was priceless……..

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Fanny Farm Master Plan

“who did this for you” she asked…..  why I did I replied! I’ve been ‘here’ for two years for chrissake, and walked over every square inch of the Fanny Farm thinking about little else than what I was going to do with it…. not only that, most of it is started.

The second week was a lot more interesting, as it was held on a farm, rather than a lecture room, which happened to belong to one of my neighbours’ friends. We talked about soils and pastures, and while I know a fair bit about soil already – having made many tonnes of the stuff over the years – I am new to pastures.

The soils bit was particularly interesting, because in Tasmania they are classified 1 to 7, with one being good enough to eat, and seven being largely of no use. We have class 4 soils, which is as good as it gets in the Huon Valley. What was utterly fascinating though was that in the whole of Tasmania, there are only, wait for it, just 3055hA (or 0.1% of private land) of class 1 soil, 20537hA of class 2 (0.8%), 84139hA of class 3 (3.4%), and 599647hA or 24% of the same stuff we have on the Fanny Farm…… If that doesn’t indicate to you just how bad Aussie soils are, then I guess nothing will…. 72% of Tassie’s soils are ordinary to crap. Even more amazing is that out of the 20 or so people attending this course, we are the only ones with class 4…. Little wonder we are zoned “significant agricultural land”.

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Simon discussing organic soil building on the family farm they have held for some 150 years….. Just look at those Geeveston Fanny trees…!

Simon told the story of how twenty years ago, his father started complaining about rocks beginning to appear out of the ground. It turns out that the problem was actually soil ‘shrinking’, and exposing the rocks that used to be below ground…. they changed their practices to the methods Joel Salatin and Alan Savory use, and all the rocks disappeared, going back to where they belonged, under good quality soil….

It is now obvious to me that the reason so much time is spent on pastures over the duration of the course, is entirely due to the fact anything worse than class 4 is only good enough to grow sheep and cattle. I have put so much work into my class 4 soil to make it viable as a market garden – over a tiny portion of the whole farm I remind you – that it also dawned on me that WTSHTF in not too long from now, anyone walking out of Hobart looking for food that’s no longer on supermarket shelves, and thinking they can just walk to farms full of goodies to eat, will be bitterly disappointed……  high energy foods like vegetables need class 3 or better soils, and they are all located in the North West of Tasmania, a very long walk away….  They’d better be good runners, and bring sharp knives along. Or guns. I can vouch that sheep can run very fast!

Those farms are there of course, they do exist…. but they are few and far between, and you’d have to know where they are.

Interestingly, we were also asked to bring a soil sample. I dug a spade square piece of dirt at random, complete with the green stuff on top. My sample was ignored by the presenters – talking about poor soils seems more interesting – until my sample was paraded as a perfect example of “improved pasture”. I of course had no idea….  all that green stuff is just grass, except it isn’t. I can now identify half a dozen different kinds of grass, and more importantly recognise the stuff that’s no good! We were even told that great pastures need 70% clover coverage. When asked if the Fanny Farm was that good, I had to say we must come pretty close….. now that spring has sprung, the clover is making a comeback, and it is everywhere……. and yet, even after maybe 15 years of this clover having been sown after the apple trees were all pulled up, it is still only class 4.

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Veronique, French Canadian wwoofer, unloading crusher dust for market garden

Any vegan who thinks soils can be quickly fertilized with green manure has no idea what they are talking about. On just 240 square metres, I have grown green manure, added four tonnes of compost and 750kg of sheep manure…..  and still the soil looks to me like it needs organic matter. I recently added half a ton of crusher dust to add texture to the clay, and that’s on top of a couple of hundred kg of lime and dolomite.  Making soil is hard work and expensive……

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This is what well prepared soil can produce. I never managed to grow artichokes like this in Queensland….

In between classes, our ewes have lambed, and I have eight chicks in my new Sheraton Chicken Coop waiting to reach a size safe enough to release with the mature chickens. My new Indian Game Birds are also producing eggs, 20 of which are in Matt’s incubator, and another dozen under a broody hen in the top chicken coop.

I’m also currently selling about seven dozen eggs to a local cafe.  This farm will eventually feed us, but one has to be patient. Soil is no miracle.


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9 responses

27 10 2017
Rob Mielcarski

Well done.

12 11 2017
Rafał

You are sooo right as to restoring soil to its proper state.
I have a small allotment garden and I’ve been adding compost and manure (+ dolomite powder) for 4 years and I still feel it needs much more life to return to balance.
I wish I could afford flying to the absolutely opposite corner of the planet to do some “woofing”.

27 10 2017
Colin Butler

Great! Thanks!

27 10 2017
MargfromTassie

A great photo of your land Mike. Fantastic view too. You must be so glad not to be in Qld anymore – heat wise.
Why oh why are we continuing to bring such large numbers of immigrants into the country when our continent has such poor soils and our seas such poor fish stocks relative to other regions of the world?

28 10 2017
Susmind

In this crazy dumb repeating era, our friends powerful friends are not our enemy.
So we need to be friends with the people that own lots of our capital …

30 10 2017
John

I’m a bit surprised that the Huon Valley soils are no better than class 4. When driving around it looks green and lush most of the time, so I guess the average person assumes it has great soils. I suppose that’s why it’s mostly filled with fruit orchards rather than vegetable farms. I’ll have to be more careful picking a bit of land for retirement!

30 10 2017
mikestasse

It’s so green because of the rainfall….. I chose the Huon because of the rainfall, in particular the western side, which is considerably wetter than the Cygnet side…… no doubt the fact that 72% of Tassie is class 5, 6, or 7 is important too….

31 10 2017
Glenn

Ooopps .. we’re on the Cygnet side. Still plenty a rain on our patch.

Cheers

glenn

4 11 2017
Helen and Stephen

Interesting course Mike, from the perspective of us in NSW whose soil is decidedly class 7.. looking forward to living on some Tamar valley soil sometime soon. 7 dozen eggs is pretty impressive output from your girls!

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