More soil building on the Fanny Farm

26 01 2018

I always try to source my materials as close to home as possible, and sometimes that can be frustrating…….! My ever so knowledgeable neighbour told me some months ago that Dolomite was locally available, and dirt cheap at that. Of course, he has about seven times as much land as I do, and when he buys some, he gets, well…  seven times as much as I need.. and it comes by truck of course, and all I wanted was one ute load. So I rang the guy who runs this enterprise, and the dolomite saga began…

When I first rang him, it was “next Monday”. Luckily I rang first, and I got “sorry, there’s no one there today, but on Wednesday…”  Sounds like Tasmania all over.

Anyhow, I eventually got my Dolomite. The depot is inside Ta An’s ‘sustainable’ plywood factory (!) whose trucks drive past my shed at least four or five times a day, and who knows how many during the night. The place never seems to stop with logging trucks going in the forest, as well as out. Don’t ask, I don’t know, and it could only occur in Tassie!

I had been on that road once before with Glenda many years ago while we were still investigating which part of the Huon we might choose. We only had a tourist map, and we somehow got lost in among the forestry roads that criss cross this logging area, and they weren’t on the tourist map, and I still didn’t have a GPS. We eventually saw signs pointing to Geeveston, and at least I knew where that was! We even drove right past this place, not realising of course that one day we’d own it…. The poor little hire car took a pounding on the incredibly rough roads, the sort that shake the fillings from your teeth. So I knew what I was in for, except that an unloaded ute with 65psi in its tyres was even worse….

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3m high mountain of Dolomite

I eventually found the mountain of Dolomite waiting for me, and the biggest front end loader I’ve ever seen, designed to fill trucks for Matt’s place, not a one ton ute! The machine has a weighing facility, so the operator knew how much he was serving me, and I got 1400kg for fifty bucks…… which in the shops might buy three or four 20kg bags. Let me tell you, I’m getting my money’s worth out of those old utes…

Rather than going back the same way with a now overloaded ute (they’re

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Ouch……!

only rated 1300kg max) I opted to do the loop back through Huonville which is farther, but with way less than half the distance of rough gravel road. By the time I got home, I had less than 1400kg anyway, because even at just 60 km/h, I was donating acid rectification material to the whole Huon Valley as it flew out the back..! It’s just like flour in texture, and any wind will blow it away. Nonetheless, the car still looked way down on its haunches by the time I had it parked in the middle of the next half of the market garden.

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My wwoofer Nathan and I spread the entire load over the area to be worked, and now it just needs more compost to be worked in to finish the job, if the job ever gets finished….

Dolomite is an anhydrous carbonate mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate, ideally CaMg(CO3)2. It’s used to modify the pH of acidic soils like we have everywhere (mostly) throughout Australia, but here in particular. It’s why apples and cherries do so well here, they love acid soils, as do most berries like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. The problem with acid soils is that they dissolve the nutrients you want in your veggies, and until you rectify the pH back to normal, adding those nutrients is a waste of effort……  but we’ll get there.

Rome wasn’t built in one day, and neither was the Fanny farm.

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My new pump in action, watering in preparation for the three day heat wave about to hit Tasmania

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Turning marginal land into fertile soil

20 01 2018

Since having my soil epiphany brought on from doing the NRM Small Farm Planning Course, I have been arguing with people who keep banging on about how we have to abandon meat eating to ‘save the planet’….. I disagree.  It’s just another silver bullet, as far as I am concerned, and they simply don’t exist…….  sure, most people might eat too much meat, but for anyone to tell me that marginal land can be turned into crop land, and easily at that, just riles me up……  they obviously have no idea what they’re talking about, nor do they have any experience at doing this.

As I have said before, it took me ten years at my last project to convert that marginal land into something capable of feeding two to three people. Making compost by hand, even when using your own humanure, takes years. And while you are waiting for the soil to improve, you have to buy food from some unsustainable source or other….

From where I sit, we probably have a couple of years of relatively ‘normal’ times left.

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Matt smoothing out the terrain

2020 is when things will get suddenly worse, never to improve again. Even if I’m out by as much as five years, it makes no difference at all. The scale of the problem we face is totally out of control.

My current wwoofer, a vegetarian Frenchman who eats non stop (I liken it to livestock eating all day long because grass is useless food…) believes likewise. Even though I am teaching him the hard way how much work is involved!

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Unloading another tonne and a quarter of compost

When Glenda was still here, I took her to Hobart to pick up a load of compost (about 1250kg, they are very generous cubic metres down there!) and on the way back, I suspect, the thermostat started playing up making ute I overheat on the big hills between here and there….  I could not even get my market garden close to finished without fossil fuels. Certainly in the time constraint I am feeling every day, as I get older, and 2020 gets closer as the clock ticks away….

I even had to get my neighbour to come back with the excavator to level off the soil we moved at the last Permablitz last year. There’s no way my back would have handled doing it by hand with a shovel. As I keep saying……  the power of fossil fuels.

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Adding sheep manure

The soil on the second half of the garden, without the advantage of all that black stuff full of decomposed cow manure we scraped off the drive 18 months ago, was even more marginal than what I started with on the first half. I’ll have to get another four loads – five tonnes – to finish the middle section that still needs doing. Plus I will have to drive god knows how far to get another tonne of Calcium rock to amend the pH of the soil to something veggies will grow in…….

To be sure, the feeding of grain to livestock is pure madness and only done to maximise

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Tilling it all in with chickens and the rotary hoe

profits. The meat derived therefrom is not even healthy, as it’s full of Omega 6 fatty acids that cause chronic inflamation.  Is it any wonder so many people are sick with diets like that which all the shops supply to unsuspecting consumers……

George Monbiot’s latest effort is what got me started on this – even though I feel the need to chronicle the improvements happening on the Fanny farm. Monbiot writes

When we feed animals on crops, we greatly reduce the number of people that an area of cropland can support. This is because, on average, around two-thirds of the food value of the crops fed to livestock is lost in conversion from plant to animal.

Of course he’s right….  we should not be feeding crops to animals that are perfectly happy to eat grass! The problem is industrial agriculture, not meat eating. And he’s wrong calling his article “Eating the Earth”, because what we are in fact doing, is eating fossil fuels, and that’s not even close to the same predicament.





Self sufficiency, comes at a price……

14 11 2017

IF you are one of my vegan friends, turn away, don’t read this…..  this morning, our two wethers met their fate and will be in our freezer next week.

I originally bought them 14 months ago with two young ewes, which have now both lambed, thanks to 20171104_184005Matt my neighbor who kindly allowed me to have them serviced by his ram. It’s a cooperative thing, all his Wilties are now on our orchard, gorging on luscious grass now going ballistic. We’ve had copious rain, and yesterday, today, and tomorrow, it’s hotter here than in Brisbane…. and the grass loves it! Normal Tasmanian weather will resume tomorrow afternoon!

As I have mentioned here before, our farm’s land capability, as it is officially known, is class 4 which is perfect for pastures, and therefore grazing animals. We are also lucky that our pastures have actually been improved by previous owners, and it’s great animal fattening land. We are not exactly making the most of it yet, because fully one third of our property is yet to have more animals eating our grass….. most likely, Matt’s cows will be put to the test soon!

20171114_091836We can’t eat grass, but the sheep can, and it’s a simple process to convert grass into protein for human consumption. The hard part is always the killing, which I do not enjoy, until the delicious result is on the table. And believe me, this is by far the best way to get high quality meat. The two wethers have had a great, if admittedly short life, and were never mistreated, right up til the very end……..

When the time came, one bullet is all it took, they never knew what happened…… stress20171114_092600 free meat means no adrenaline in the system, makes for better meat, and you can’t do it more humanely. The mobile butchers were efficient beyond belief, they were only here for forty minutes, and both carcasses were in their mobile cold room ready for cutting up later, all in that short time.  It actually took me longer to dispose of the leftovers, now composting for future use in the market garden. NOTHING is wasted…… this is how sustainable agriculture is done,

With the state of our soils in Tasmania and virtually everywhere else in Australia, incapable as they are of growing high energy food like grain and vegetables without loads of fossil energy inputs, I believe that in a post crash era we will be eating even more meat than we are currently…. and in any case, I’m sure we’ll be eating a lot less of everything, period…..





AGA Saga MkII well underway…….

7 11 2017

My latest AGA Saga (the first one in Qld and the wood conversion story are actually the top rating blog entries on DTM, getting 3 to 12 hits very single day….) began when I won the jackpot by finding a four oven model in the Adelaide Hills. Every AGA I had laid eyes on before this looked pretty sad from the outside, but was usually in pretty good order internally. This one was the complete opposite……

When I picked it up, it had been pulled apart by a secret society of AGA engineers member, for all its flaws to be displayed. The most obvious was the ginormous crack in the outer barrel almost certainly caused by some imbecile wrapping a copper pipe around it to make hot water; the shock of applying cold water to near red hot cast iron was simply too much for the brittle material, it must have gone with a loud bang……

The internet is a wonderful thing, however, and over the years I’ve made friends with other AGA officionados, swapping ideas and titbits that have at times I’m sure come in handy. So when Geoff contacted me, he put a whole new slant on the internet coming to the rescue…..

Geoff isn’t going to convert his AGA to wood, no, he’s going to run it on solar PV! Now we all know what I think of using electricity to make heat, let alone solar electricity, but Geoff is one of those clever guys who does things differently, like you know who, and he just might pull it off. Watch this space…… On the strength of our online discussions, Geoff even started a facebook group for anyone interested in the old stoves.

Because Geoff’s AGA will not be needing ‘a fire’, he has no use for all the bits that are relevant to said fire…. so he offered me his outer barrel for a price that was more than competitive with that of my usual UK source of parts. And besides, because it only needed to cross Bass Strait rather than come half way ’round the world, I would not have to pay the eye watering shipping fees either.

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Great packing job (bubble wrap removed), it all arrived in perfect condition

I then wondered if if he could also part with the exhaust channel that bolts to the outer barrel, and runs atop the top oven, on its way to the manifold (the bit I replaced in Qld) and the flue. When he sent me a photo of the one he had, I was blown away….. it looked brand new! Yep, I’ll have that too…… and I have to add, I had not realised just how bad mine was until I put the two together side by side. The mating flanges on both parts were very badly corroded/eroded.

Along with the new steel manifold my

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New steel manifold made in one piece instead of the three cast original parts.

mate Pete welded together for me in Geeveston, the entire exhaust system will be as good as new. The old one was all warped, and corroded/eroded just like the rest of the flueways… I opted to not put a vent pipe in this one, I think it keeps the flue too cold causing some of the gumming up problems I encountered in Qld….. the vent pipe was missing from the parts I picked up anyway, maybe it was removed at the time this stove was wood converted.

I paid Geoff to pack it all up on a cut down pallet so that Tasfreight could easily handle the parts with a forklift (it was actually one of their requirements), and he even threw in a couple of tie down straps, which I’m sure I will make use of in the future. Thank you Geoff, you’re a champ!

Spot the difference……..!

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In retrospect, I now realize how lucky I was getting this barrel and flueway. For starters, I had put the barrel in for repairs at the local engineering store. Welding it back into shape would have been a hell of a job, because the entire casting would have had to be heated to several hundred degrees first, and there would have been little chance of getting the machined surfaces top and bottom parrallel. Secondly, whilst the exhaust port’s machined surface was not as bad as that of the flueway, I would never in a million years have achieved a satisfactory seal between the two, and it may have cost me as much as what this current exercise cost me….. and there was no guarantee the weld would even hold….

In typical Tasmanian fashion, the engineers put it in the too hard basket, and saved my bacon it now turns out….. some things are just meant to happen.

The next big step with this project will be designing and manufacturing a wetback for the big stove. AGA never made one for reasons I can’t fathom, I’m sure it’s doable, and anyone wanting to do this too will soon enough have access to the open source information I gladly supply.

Now all I need is a house and kitchen to move all the bits into so I can put the big and heavy jigsaw puzzle back together…..





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……..  “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.





A late Winter’s tale…….

28 09 2017

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Winter was late this year. Which was a good thing to start with, it allowed us to pour all the foundation concrete for the new house before it got too cold and wet. But when it did arrive, it came with a vengeance….. three weeks ago, in spring, it snowed down to 150m. Twice…..! It was all around us, but didn’t quite make it as low as where I live. And when it wasn’t snowing, it rained…! and rained, and rained…. The result of all this, as much as I like snow, is that literally nothing got done around the Fanny Farm, there’s mud everywhere…. with apologies to all my friends in Queensland who have all run out of water, including, I suspect the people who bought our house. I’ve even put on weight, my bad…….

Last weekend, my better half was down for a few days, and having attended several permablitz events locally over the past couple of months – half of which were canceled thanks to above mentioned rain – I booked my turn as Glenda could help with the catering. I don’t know whether it was unfortunate or not, but only a handful of people turned up, with the important ones being my neighbour Matt who supplied and operated his excavator, and my new mate Phil who kindly allowed us to get his 4WD ute filthy dirty for the day……!

20170924_105436Twenty or so years ago when all (well, most) of the apple trees here were ripped up, they were pushed into large mounds and burned. There are at least eight such mounds on this small property, and some investigative digging with a spade revealed that the earth lying there was full of carbon and generally pretty good. There was about ten or twelve cubic metres of this stuff just 20 to 30 metres from the western half of my yet to be finished market garden, and I needed to have it moved into the garden area to rid myself of the furrows that are part of the old apple orchard windrows; there just had not been enough topsoil left over from the house cutting, and the furrows were directing all that rain water into my building site. The

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House drainage tested by deluge

 

drainage around the house is working very well – and it sure was tested with all this rain – but I’m not into making my life any more difficult than necessary.

 

So Matt dug the mounds up for us, and loaded the soil onto our utes which we then drove the short distance to the garden area. Because not enough people had turned up to manually unload the soil, Matt ended up trundling his machine back and forth between the loading and unloading areas to scrape the material off the vehicles. As I keep saying, with fossil fuels, you can do anything. And as Geoff Lawton also keeps saying, the best use of oil is to move earth…!

I knew this could be done because Caleb and I moved tons of clay this way when we dug the house trenches, and this was easier…..  though the entire area turned into a giant bog hole, and we had our fair share of fun playing in the mud with our toys..! It was so slippery, I even got out once with all four wheels slowly spinning in the mud in low range four wheel drive with the engine just idling…!

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The mess after the mudstorm

It’s all done now, and we feasted on pizzas and beer at lunch time to celebrate. Many thanks to all involved, all I have to do now is wait for it all to dry so I can add compost and sheep manure and plant some green manure for the 2018 growing season…… not to mention finishing the fence around the market garden, building another hot house down hill from the existing one, and and……………………

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More pouring…..

15 06 2017

The owner builder gods have been smiling upon me…… since expressing concern about maybe having missed the boat with further concreting and Tasmania’s fickle weather, the frosty and rainy weather went on holidays long enough that I decided to persevere, and it’s all paid off….

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shower grates

Mind you, it wasn’t without the odd thing going wrong. As Glenda and I reinvented the bathroom layouts, I had to wait for several days for the new grates we are going to use in the shower area before I was able to finish the second spider (see above link). I ended up buying two of these online for $200, while Bunnings were selling them for $300 each…… always shop around!

While waiting, I made three of the four pipes that run into the riser. The riser was in its position, in the middle of the bathroom mockup in the shed, ready to go; once the fourth pipe was carefully glued together, I assembled the spider, only to discover later that the riser had been sitting for days on the floor upside down……… Sacré bleu! I thought I’d worked a way to get away with it, even dragging it up to the house site for installation, until I realised that the riser is moulded in such a way that all those pipes fall to the fitting (it’s only a two degree fall, but it’s important!) and that now all those pipes were going uphill…… and as we all know, water does not run uphill!

I really hate stuffing things up, but I had to go and buy another fitting (50km return trip and $35 later..), destroy the original one, and refit the entire thing properly. I’m getting really good at problem solving.

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waterproof membrane in place

I re-hired Caleb to do my heavy lifting and unload another couple of tons of crusher dust off the ute to cover up all those bare dirt patches between the trenches while I went to work putting them together.

There’s a lot to think about. I almost forgot to glue the outlet pipe from the second bathroom, and had to dig it up, by hand. No major drama this time, but there you go. These outlets also have to be lagged with 40mm of foam where they penetrate the footing in case the highly reactive soil I seem to continually build on make the concrete move and break the pipes. It pays to know how

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lagged outlet pipe

to read an engineer’s drawings!

Once all the crusher dust was in place, we covered it with the thick plastic moisture proof membrane my supplier sold me, and before you know it, I was ordering another ten cubic metres of concrete.

On the day, I was training Caleb on how I wanted him to rake the concrete towards himself while he stood on the first footing and I inserted the concrete vibrator into the pile of the wet stuff that would land in the middle of the trench. To my amazement, and Caleb’s visible delight, as soon as the vibrator started doing its thing, the concrete came to the end of the trench all by itself, like water in a flash flood……  I tell you, that device is worth its weight in gold! It easily does the work of at least one other man, and maybe more. Mind you, I also had to deal with the end of the machine vibrating itself off, and having to work out the thread was mysteriously left hand – very odd, as left hand threads are usually used to stop things vibrating off! No pressure….  I only had a concrete truck waiting for me to get going again…….

We had two truck loads of concrete in place within just forty-five minutes……. and I had expected it to take twice this long with only two of us on the job!

Now all I have to do is pour a perfectly level and perfectly flat slab on top of the whole thing (after I return from another trip to Queensland to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary!), and we can start BUILDING! I really can’t wait to be past this stage; I didn’t want to do this in the first place, but I am saving so much money, it will all be worth it. And to be honest, it’s all turned out even better than I expected, and I am justifiably proud of my handy work……  watch this space.

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