REGENERATING OUR LANDSCAPE

Successful Queensland regenerative farmers Shane and Shan Joyce have moved on from their property 'Dukes Plain' to start again and restore a degraded landscape to a thriving, productive environment. Join Shane as he shares his experiences regenerating 'Kumbartcho'.

Enabling landscape rehydration and regeneration

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
image of water pooling in contour channel

Transforming drains into chains of ponds on Kumbartcho.

As I write Shan is “across the ditch” in NZ visiting an ex-WWOOFer who is working on an Angus stud cattle operation in the south island. I’m home absolutely enjoying “farm” life. My participation in the Community gardens in Kilkivan continues, as do new projects on Kumbartcho.

Rehydration

We have begun our Peter Andrews/Natural Sequence Farming-style landscape rehydration project.

Stuart Andrews kindly took a day out of his family seaside holiday to come ‘consulting’ for us. Thanks so much Stuart!

Now we have followed the plan (mostly), with some added personal flair.

It may be best to do the work at end of the wet season, but our timing a little out as the wet began almost on cue with the commencement of earth works!!!

So we have had live testing of the works so far.

The big successes have been:

  • Work on our 1960’s vintage “contour” banks (drains actually). This is a process of turning drains into chain of ponds. Rather than getting the water drained off the farm asap, we are now beginning to hold the water to let it slowly work through the soil.
  • We are getting a glimpse of how we can spread the water over the farm from gullies to effectively ‘irrigate’ substantial areas of pasture.

We have purchased a laser level (after the contractor we engaged said he did levels by eye!). Now we can take accurate levels and be confident that we are “on the right level!”

image of water in contour channels

Slowing the flow of water and capturing and holding it in the landscape helps rehydrate the soil.

Rain, rain, rain.

After sticking our necks out and purchasing a goodly number of yearling heifers for both Kumbartcho and Dukes Plain (while the market was floundering), we watched as our Stock Days per hectare per 100 mm of rain began a meteoric rise!!! Things have changed with 11 mm at Dukes Plain for November, and 89 mm at Kumbartcho, and now for December 76 mm at Dukes and 90 mm at Kumbartcho.

A green xmas is assured.

After a hot dry spring we are surely enjoying the current humidity (free saunas).

Revegetation

Our planted trees are doing well, as is our Monto Vetiver grass.

We planted the Vetiver in June in an eroded gully, and it is now catching sediment and top soil - from the property next door.

image of vetiver grass with sediment

Vegetation in erosion gullies slows the flow of water and
  captures sediment.

Earlier planted trees which succumbed to drought or frost have been replaced just prior to the December rains, so will be off to a good start.

image of young tree

Young trees planted earlier in the
  year are beginning to become
  established.

 
Our most recent ‘tree’ strategy is to purchase a full (60 metre) roll of reinforcement mesh, and from this we will make tree guards to protect naturally regenerating eucalypt seedlings in the paddocks from stock browsing them. This effectively will allow us to get seedlings above browse height, and then we can move the guards on to new sites. We see this as a cheap way to ensure successful natural regeneration of trees in the landscape.

 
 
 
Other news is that we have had our second release of bio control insects for Cats Claw creeper on Wide bay Creek. Gympie Landcare has a bug breeding facility.

Regeneration

The weather conditions seem to be getting more extreme (super cell storms, droughts, floods), which all really highlight the need for a change nationally to change land management to regenerative practices.

It is fine to ‘mouth off’ about the resources industries and their mines, however unfortunately still many of our agricultural/pastoral industries are also highly extractive, and contributing to the weather extremes in a very big way.

To ensure that we continue to regenerate and build the health of the natural resource base, rather than mine it, our fifth spraying of Biodynamic soil activator over the whole property was completed, and the sixth has now begun. With the rain we are anticipating an absolute “explosion” in our soil health, and pastures.

Managing soil, water and photosynthesis

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
image of green grass in drought conditions

Kumbartcho pasture into its second year of drought.

Top of our list when we went ‘shopping’ for a new farm, was water.

In times of drought it becomes really apparent that water is the single most limiting factor in our agricultural enterprises/gardens. Here we have a flowing creek, with water allocation, and a bore which is adequate for irrigation purposes (un-regulated).

Now it is well and good to have all this water, however the cost of pumping it has largely become prohibitive for many agricultural enterprises.

How then are we addressing this issue of water??

Our pasture and soil management is focused on having soils in best possible condition and pastures are managed for perenniality and diversity.

Soil in good condition has the capacity to hold more water, as well as an increased infiltration rate when rains come.

Some Facts!

  • One hundred kilograms of soil with 4 to 5 % organic matter will hold two hundred litres of water. With 1.5 to 2% organic matter it will hold only forty five litres!!!
  • Trials in the Kimberly showed that on similar soil types, water infiltration rates on bare ground were 25 mm per hour, on litter cover 45 mm per hour, and on perennial grass 175 mm per hour. On applying “simulated rainfall” a second time on the same sites the bare ground infiltration rate went down to 12 mm per hour, litter cover down to 30 mm per hour, while the perennial grass site infiltration rate increased to a massive 300 mm per hour!!!

It is not rocket science then that if we manage our soils, and pastures we can make much more effective use of what rainfall we get.

An important fact then, that is emerging out of all this, is to do with PHOTOSYNTHESIS.

In this day of “global warming/climate change”, as farmers/gardeners, we have a huge FREE resource, which along with sunshine, air, and water, we can HARVEST.

That free resource is CARBON DIOXIDE, and the way to ‘capture’ it is through photosynthesis.

If our soils have high organic matter, and have healthy diverse pastures, then we can capture, and store more of the available rainfall. It is this stored moisture that keeps our plants growing when it is not raining. The longer we can keep plants green, and growing, then the more (through photosynthesis) we are able to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To quote Alan Lauder from Carbon Grazing, “water, and fertility follow CARBON. Photosynthesis puts carbon into our soils!”

If we continue to keep grazing animals, while compromising our pastures need for rest, we are “giving up” the possibility of harvesting effectively the FREE RESOURCES. It is these free resources, which have the capacity to maintain our RESOURCE BASE - the farm.

By learning to effectively ‘harvest’ we can reduce the impact of drought, flood, and fire.

image of green grass in drought conditions

On Kumbartcho pastures are actively managed to retain green growth
even in drought conditions.

Reflections on drought and community

Tuesday, November 04, 2014
Kilkivan markets

Sunday market in Kilkivan.

It’s November 2014. Shan and I have been on our new farm now nine and a half months.

In that time we have applied the Biodynamic preparations to the whole property four times, and as I write I’m mid-way through the fifth application.

Much of these more recent applications have been based on adding fertility inputs to our 'hay paddocks', and sequential spraying for rain. Yes, we are sitting on 330mm for the year in a 900mm rainfall area, and we are in a second year of DROUGHT.

Managing Drought

We introduced stock on 16 June, and subsequently removed them on 30 September due to them having consumed sufficient of the pasture, and lack of adequate regrowth.

Briefly, on a farm that used to milk 90 cows, being on 1/3 rain equates to having the capacity to carry 30 adult stock, and being in second year of drought effectively halves this again.

We have reserved 1.5 paddocks (12 hectares) for making hay, which is selling into a hay hungry market.

What then about our goal to "have pastures in better condition at end of drought" than at the start?

When we took delivery on 13 January 2014 the property had had 70 horses, and up to 200 cattle - it was eaten out! By mid June the pastures were sufficiently rested, and we had established a stock water system (previously almost non-existent with stock watering on excavations in gullies).

The pastures had grown on March rains, which was too late in the growing season to produce much bulk of feed. It looked good, however contained about 1/3 of what it appeared to be.

Some drought "rules":

  • Don’t feed, as one knows when a drought starts, however one does not know when it will end.
  • Focus on 'resource management'. Our soil, and pasture are the resource from which we produce product. Don’t get confused and compromise the resource by ‘holding on’ to stock. Sell, and bank the money. When the grass grows (is rested) sufficiently, then restock.
  • Keep applying the Biodynamic preparations. When our landscape is challenged (by the likes of drought) is when it most needs us to support it. The Biodynamic preparations are now well proven to work when used in times of drought.

Which leads us into the next topic of COMMUNITY.

Contributing to the Community

With few stock to manage, and hay being made, sold, and loaded by our neighbour, I have time on my hands.

For many years I have been very interested in community gardens, and I discovered that in Kilkivan we have a Sunday Market, and Community Gardens, on the site of the old railway station.

image of compost

First compost production.

I have volunteered to help out in the gardens. It is all I could hope for. I’m meeting some of the ‘locals’, exercising my passion for gardening, and ‘introducing’ the Biodynamic preparations into the gardens.

In the short time I have been involved we have a new shade house, with wicking beds (see www.easygrowvegetables.net), a garden fence to keep the kangaroos, rabbits (there’s no rabbits in Queensland!), hares, and bandicoots out. Some of them just loved the salad mix we were providing.

We also have an active compost heap/s, and a liquid manure drum.

Part of our garden crew is three work for the dole lads, and their supervisor. Other community members just turn up, and chip in to help.

Over the months, it's come a long way.

images of community gardens at various stages of development

The evolution of the Kilkivan community garden.

Re-assessing farm weak links

Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Shan Joyce spraying Biodynamic soil activator

 

Well here we are at end August 2014, tomorrow is first day of spring. August has delivered us 52 mm of rain, which gives us great soil moisture to begin spring.

 

image of spraying off the back of a quad bike

Shan Joyce spraying Biodynamic soil activator

The farm has had three sprays of Biodynamic soil activator, so is well ‘primed’ to burst into life/growth as the weather warms.

Now is a good time to re-assess what are the ‘weak links’ of this farm.

 

 
Having attended to the farm’s acute need for rest (destocked 13/01/2014 till 16/06/2014), and to the farm’s need to achieve a biologically active soil (three applications of Biodynamic preparations).  The outstanding ‘weak link’ was stock water infrastructure.

Stock Water Infrastructure

image of water pipe in paddock

Final paddock trough water supply is in place

On Friday 29 August we installed our final water trough. Paddocks are now set up for subdivision with no need for further water infrastructure. With a total of 14 stock water troughs, two tanks and 5.3 km of polypipe, we now have a deluxe stock water system.

If you’re wondering what the investment requirement was - the total cost of the system was $32,098.68.

We already had seven of the troughs and the two tanks, so they are not included in the cost. The trenching component for the pipe was $3580, including man and machine hire. There are no other labour costs included, as the work was performed by me, friends, and students from two Steiner School Year 9 classes during their ‘Farm Camp’ visit. Total time spent was six days with three people, and eight days with students and myself.

Stock are now into their last paddock, having begun their rotation on 16 June.

Grazing Management

This then leads us to the next ‘weak link’, which is associated with many things, however to keep it brief paddock subdivision has moved to the top of the priorities list.

Now that we have water in place, better use of stock densities will be facilitated by both permanent, and temporary electric fences.

image of worm

Biodynamic soil activator and grazing management has
  helped encourage soil biological activity

Stock densities will facilitate a speeding up of improvement of quality and diversity of pastures, knock down of unused pasture to improve litter and soil organic matter.

More paddocks will make utilisation of pasture more effective, and achieving adequate rest much easier.

Smaller paddocks will allow for more targeted treatment of ‘undesirable’ species such as Giant Rats Tail (GRT) grass. Our focus with the GRT is to basically treat the soil. Through the use of Biodynamic preparations, and grazing management we hope to shift the nutrient status of the soil to where it no longer ‘needs’ to grow GRT. Perennial, productive, palatable species will become healthy, and out-compete the GRT. The ‘spaces’ for GRT seedling recruitment will be largely reduced.

At this stage we have begun to install lead out electric wires, and subdivided one paddock with single wire permanent electric fence. Seven paddocks to go!

Landscape Hydrology

Next on the ‘weak link’ list is water (no not stock water), and how the water moves in the landscape.

image of rocks in gully

Rocks and scrap material from around the property
  have been used to construct a leaky weir

We plan to put in place a plan for landscape rehydration.

This will involve the use of Peter Andrews’ techniques to improve the hydrology of the farm, and maximize the effect of rainfall, and ground water.

image of shooting willow

Willow cutting planted to stabilise
  river banks are already
  beginning to shoot

We hope to begin this planning process in September 2014.

In the meantime, tree plantings have already started on the waterways, and one leaky weir is in place built from scraps of concrete, rocks, bricks, and tyres.

Electric fencing will also include one last section of waterway that is not fenced to better manage stock access and minimise disturbance.

Another series of 'weak links' well on the way to being addressed.
 
 

Monitoring farm actions and results

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

The Importance of Monitoring

I cannot stress enough the value of monitoring as a tool to be used in all facets of farming.

Here at Kumbartcho we started our monitoring program right from the beginning. On our former property Dukes Plain we did not start the monitoring till 1995, some 12 years after we took up the management.

image of treed pasture land

Vegetation growth on Dukes Plain

There, within 6 months of beginning, we had saved our selves in the order of $40 per hectare, which we would have spent on re-clearing timber regrowth.

Yes, within 6 months we were able to demonstrate from our grazing chart records that our timbered country was out yielding our re-cleared, re-pastured land. We have now been able to demonstrate with 20 years of yield data, that our re-cleared country has such a miniscule increase in yield, that it would take 98 years to re-coup the cost of clearing!

Nutrient Availability

Here at Kumbartcho we took soil and water samples when we inspected the property.

We established what elements are low in availability.

What actions then have we taken as a result of these soil tests?

Action one was to begin to apply the biodynamic preparations (Biodynamic Soil Activator) within hours of settlement.

In the first 48 hours we had sprayed along all boundary and internal fence lines with soil activator.

We began to plant trees (with soil activator under the planting sites).

We brought these trees from our former property Dukes Plain, deliberately to carry the biodynamic impulse, which was well established in the soils there.

The property has now had three applications of Biodynamic Soil Activator, the first fence line application and two full property applications. The last two applications have been timed for autumn and winter, deliberately to “prime” the soils for spring.

During winter the “forces” from the cosmos are streaming into the earth, so any soil amendments we apply in the autumn/winter period will be “pulled” into the soil, and accumulate there, ready to “burst” into life in spring /summer.

Pasture Status & Yield

Our next monitoring action was to establish fixed-point photo sites in all paddocks (18 in all).

We now have February, end March, and end June photos from these sites.

Fixed-point monitoring photos showing improvement in pasture condition

Fixed point monitoring photos for two paddocks.
Top to bottom: February, March and end June 2014 (click for larger image)

The property was rested (livestock removed) for five and a half months to allow pastures to fully recover from grazing. Livestock were re-introduced on 16 June.

Our third monitoring tool is to keep records of paddock yields.

Informed Decision Making

Our next soil samples will be taken 12 months into our management of the property. The results of a combination of rest, biodynamic preparations and grazing management will then be revealed by what changes there are in nutrient availability.

The soil sampling will also be done in tandem with plant tissue testing. This will reveal what nutrients the plants are taking up, and what are lacking.

No tissue test was done with first soil samples due to lack of tissue to sample!

We do our soil tests through the Environmental Analysis Labrarotory at Southern Cross University in Lismore.

Available nutrients, total nutrients, and tissue samples are done in order that we can better work out how effective our soil amendments have been, and what additional amendments we may need to make.

Without ongoing monitoring it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of our farming actions, so monitor, monitor, monitor.

We are fully committed to our monitoring program as it gives us a “baseline” from which we can then measure the effectiveness of our various actions.

Building farm and community

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

This update on starting our new farm at Kumbartcho, Kilkivan will be focused on our community involvement.

A large part of our community involvement goes back now some eight years.

When at Dukes Plain, Theodore, we started a “partnership” with Samford Valley Steiner School (SVSS). They have been bringing their Year Nine class out to Dukes Plain for “farm camp” each year during winter. Initially the camp was for one week, however more recently it has grown to three weeks.

The history of our association goes back to my spotting an advertisement in the Biodynamic Agriculture Australia News Leaf. SVSS were seeking a farm in south east Queensland. I stretched the definition of “south east”, and we volunteered, and in the absence of a better offer, were chosen.

I had a friend who worked at SVSS as a gardener. Rob was familiar with the Dukes Plain landscape, and recommended the area as having great potential, despite the distance that they would have to travel to come to this “south east corner” farm!

Well here we are in 2014, having sold Dukes Plain, and deeming running the farm camps there any more far too difficult (the new owners are a corporate and even I have needed “induction” to be on the site).

We offered SVSS the opportunity to come to the new farm at Kilkivan (yes, we are now in the south east corner).

Fortunately we have an old farm house to accommodate groups, and being just three hours from Brisbane, a much shorter journey for the groups.

The association has also included Noosa Pengari Steiner School, and their Year Nine class.

We view these associations as a valuable community service, which gives urban students the opportunity to experience first-hand farm life and work.

Part of our obligation is to have a “mountain” of tasks for the students to complete. Believe me, one can get much work done/many projects completed with a workforce of up to as many as twenty-eight students!

We do a variety of farm tasks, which may include:

  • making and application of Biodynamic preparations,
  • fencing,
  • installation and repair of water infrastructure,
  • bush walking,
  • cleaning out cattle grids,
  • construction of leaky weirs (drawn from Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming),
  • planting of trees,
  • planting of Vetiver grass in waterways/drainage lines,
  • treating noxious weeds,
  • cutting and collecting fire wood,
  • managing compost toilets (carbon:nitrogen ratio!),
  • management of their own hot water resource (donkey with wood fire),
  • furniture making,
  • sculpting, etcetera...
image of students planting trees

The students get to learn some “life skills” while on camp. One of the many is to learn about Low Stress Stock handling. This methodology (the principles of) can be applied to many aspects of life, from our interaction with other humans to encounters with wild animals while driving.

An appreciation of where food comes from and how it is produced is a big learning for many students (suddenly the piece of meat on a Styrofoam tray under glad wrap has a different meaning!).

Now that the camp is over a three week period, the students get to break through some challenging personal issues. The first week can be challenging (“I want to go home”), the second week is when some order comes into the group, and the third week is the time when many shift to “I don’t want to go home” mode.

For us and the farm the great things are:

  • the great energy of youth which has a big impact on the farm environment,
  • we get lots of work done (while having fun),
  • I get to practiced my memory skills (remembering up to 28 names!),
  • having the association with the schools brings (for a brief period) a community on to the farm and we share food preparation, meals, conversation, and music.

Among the achievements for the students, is that they gain a bigger appreciation of the comforts of home, and their parents! We look forward to continuing this association into the future.

Our other community involvements at this stage are doing a presentation for a local farmers group at a field day, applying the Biodynamic preparations to two neighbouring properties (done by the Samford Valley students by hand), sharing freely knowledge on use of the Biodynamic preparations, and giving Biodynamic soil activator to local people to get them started.

I hope eventually to get involved with the local community garden (all trees and lawn at this stage), and markets (weekly).

Restocking after restoring a degraded landscape

Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

Well here we are at Kumbartcho, and we have hit “P” mode, where P is for production.

We have had the property in ‘lock up’ mode since the 13th of January this year. Yes, no stock till pastures had fully recovered from previous (over) grazing, and under resting.

Rain throughout this resting period has been:

  • 4.5mm in January
  • 42mm in February
  • 158.5mm in March
  • 17mm in April
  • 37.5mm in May
  • 7mm in June.

The February rains started the growth processes, however with 40mm falling on the 17th of February and then no further significant rainfall untill the 25th of March, recovery in pastures were quite insignificant.

However, March rain from the 25th to 31st of 146.5mm gave the land a good soaking over a week, and with continued warm weather, pastures were afforded the opportunity to fully recover.

With two biodynamic soil activator applications and adequate rest, much has been achieved.

Pastures have had the opportunity to ‘max out’ to feed soil biology. (Most likely for the first time since settlement in the 1840’s!!!)

Making Hay

We have cut hay. Our very first hay production enterprise.

image of hay rolls

So, why and what of the hay enterprise???

  • We have a neighbour who has full hay making plant who offered to cut hay for us, so we are able to do this enterprise without the need to purchase equipment. (The only tractor is a con-tractor!)
  • This is also a ‘share’ arrangement, so no need for the exchange of money.
  • The paddocks we are cutting hay from are areas that frost in winter, so the longer-term plan is to harvest (make hay) from abundant summer growth, and then “pasture crop” a winter annual. The winter annual will both add organic matter to the soil, and be used for grazing.
  • The farm has a huge hay shed, so lots of storage facility not being used. We can now use this infrastructure to store summer forage for later resale, there already being a demand for hay I doubt that much of the harvest will go into storage this season.
  • None of the hay will be used on our farm as we have “kicked the hay habit”.

Introducing Livestock

On the 16th of June we purchased sixty-eight (261 kg) heifers from Gympie sale yards.

image of cattle

The timing of the introduction of livestock has been largely determined by WATER.

Yes, we now have a great, reticulated water system to three-quarters of the 141 hectare farm. Seven new troughs, a header tank, new submersible electric pump in the irrigation bore and four kilometers of 63 mm poly pipe (see this post).

image of cow at water trough

The system is deliberately quite over-engineered to allow for future 'mob' grazing, for improvement of soil and pasture condition.

Five paddocks currently have water and paddock size varies between 4.5 hectares and 16.8 hectares.

Troughs have been strategically placed to:

  • allow for future sub-division of paddocks.
  • provide “top of hill” watering for nutrient distribution (as per Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming).

We have five remaining paddocks, and five holding paddocks in which to implement new water reticulation or perform existing system upgrades.

Paddock graze periods will be determined both by what will maximise animal performance and provide adequate rest for pastures to recover.

Paddocks will be treated post grazing with biodynamic soil activator, as well as being spot sprayed for Giant Rats Tail grass.

Stock are ‘inducted’ using Low Stress Stock Handling methods, which in this instance was done largely by a group of year nine students from Samford Valley Steiner School. The seventeen students were given an introduction to Low Stress methods over a four day period, concluding with doing individual working of stock in yards, and ear tagging of cattle.

I’ll talk more about our relationship with this school in the next post...

Recharge: taking a break from the farm

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

Well folks this chapter in the story may seem to be quite ‘unconnected’ to our new farm, however in my view it is ‘connected’ very much.

On the 13th of May, I set out on a journey to Adelaide, SA to ride (bicycle) with a friend (Michael) from Angaston (Barossa Valley) to Blinman (just north of Wilpeena Pound) in the Flinders Ranges.

We were then to return to Port Augusta, and catch a bus back to Adelaide, flying home on May 23rd.

Why this ‘journey’ is so closely connected to our farming operation, is primarily due to the need for us all to ‘take a break’ from our work place!

In Covey speak, it’s ‘sharpening the saw’.


The ride...


I am now back at Kumbartcho, refreshed and with new enthusiasm for the job.

Let me then relate some of our experiences:

My cycling buddy hails from WA, we met some 6 years back on an epic ride from Port Augusta, SA to Karumba, Qld.

Since then we have shared many rides, and both clearly recognise the need to ‘escape’ the ‘noise’ of day to day work/life.

Back then to this recent journey. A friend (Wayne) in the Barossa lent us his ute to get from Adelaide airport to Angaston. Wayne had flown out the morning we arrived.

Michael and I stayed just outside Angaston with Brian and Sally on their farm. This to be our last night of ‘comfort’ in a warm house and with home cooked meals.

On May 14th we set out, provisioning up in Nuriootpa. I then had a back tyre blow out, and learned very fast that 26 inch bike tyres are a scarce commodity in Nuriootpa! Soon one was found in Toy World and we were on our way again. I now travel with no spare tube, as tubes with ‘French valves’ were non-existent in Nurioopta.

Our first day from then was uneventful (though tough).

We made Robertstown, where we camped.

Day 2 we had Burra as our lunch destination. The head winds just got worse as we went, and some seven and one half hours later we arrived, physically and psychologically destroyed!

We had covered 44 kilometres!

Let me digress to some ‘farm’ experiences over these 2 days so far.

The Barossa around Angaston is very ‘mono-cultural’, with the diversity being a rose bush at the end of each row of vines. The roses are used as an early warning of fungal disease. The native bush in this area is typical of much of our rural agricultural landscapes. Remnant trees are largely old and dying, with little or no regeneration.

As we proceeded, the landscape progressively got clearer and clearer. It appeared that ‘zero till’, had given way to ‘strategic tilling’ and stubble burning.

My view of these landscapes is that if we had set out to kill of soil life, drain of as much water as possible, and increase surface evaporation, then we have been really successful!

Back then to ‘the journey’. Michael and I chose in Burra to ‘head south’. That is to ‘go with the wind’. This for me was a real metaphor for application to farming/life/work.

In our plan to ride to Blinman, we had become very ‘destination’ focused. Two tough days forced us to ‘step back’ from our goal and re-access.

We are now on the Mawson Trail from Burra to Clare, and have a wonderful day cycling (cross winds), and the landscape begins to give way to more diversity.

Yes we were ‘sniffing’ chemicals, as some farmers (on the far horizon) sprayed out their fields. It is no mystery why there is so much disease in our communities, when agricultural practices like this are not only allowed, but also encouraged!!!

We are beginning to see the odd farm, where trees have been re-planted (shelter belts).

We are seeing more retention of remnants (thanks to Don Dunstan all those years back banning clearing).

In our travels we saw one property (a vineyard), where there was a real attempt at re-instating trees on the farm. The whole farm had rows of trees strategically planted right throughout.

In conclusion:

South Australia has the most amazing network of biking, hiking, riding trails. Well done SA!

And I’m back at Kumbartcho grateful for the opportunity to ‘take a break’.

Till next time farewell, and enjoy your break from work!


Shane and friend with their bikes

Fixing weak links

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

Well here we are 3.5 months into this adventure.

13/01/2014 was our start date.

A gentle reminder that what we are about here on this farm is re-creating healthy soils.

We have now done two applications of the Biodynamic Preparations; have our Field Broadcaster working 24/7/365, our Atreorg also 24/7/365, and the occasional use of our Ether Toner (for rain).

At this point in time it is very clear what the ‘weak links’ are on this farm:

  • Soil Biology.
  • Grazing Management.
  • Stock Water Distribution.

Now for us there is an overlap of all these three issues, and we have addressed them firstly by the use of the Biodynamic Preparations, secondly by removal of livestock to REST the pastures, and finally by implementing a brand new stock (and garden) water system.

Farm Water Infrastructure

My experience has shown that properties with great natural water resources, for some bizarre reason, tend to have incredibly poor stock water infrastructure.

Here we have a property with a very rich water resource, and 16 paddocks, of which only eight have stock water!

Stock water is provided to these paddocks by four different pumping facilities! All this on a property of 141 hectares!

image of polypipe being laid in trench

Well all this has changed, and we have been busy this past week installing a deluxe water system, which will water all paddocks. Water is being pumped from a bore (7000 GPH), to a high storage tank, from which it will be gravity fed to all paddocks. Two other bores, and a well, will remain as back up in the event of a failure in the main bore pump.

All up we are installing 4.4 km of 63 mm PN 8 poly pipe, one storage tank, 8 new troughs, a pump, and a single storage tank. The pump will be an automatic electric submersible, with pressure switch.

Troughs will be located centrally in existing paddocks (and where possible on the top of hills), to allow for paddock sub-division. Future paddock layout will allow for short duration, high stock density grazing, with adequate rest.

Paddock grazes will be followed by application of the Biodynamic Preparations, along with 'spot' spraying/manual removal of noxious weeds (Giant Rats Tail Grass, Creeping Lantana, Groundsel Bush, Lantana, Parthenium).

Growing the Grass

Still we have no livestock on the property, choosing to allow pastures to ‘max out’, and feed soil biology.

Rains in February (40 mm), and then in March (140 mm) began the pasture ‘growth to recovery’.

Many of the grasses had learned to grow sideways, to prevent predation from herbivores. Grasses had very poor root systems (shallow). It takes some time for these plants to re-learn how to grow, as they become somewhat like root-bound pot plants.

Fortunately we have a neighbour who understands what we are doing, and does not ‘join the mob’, who keep asking why we have no stock on all that grass!!!

image of tall grasses

Also on our agenda is hay making and filling the great hay shed we have inherited with the farm. Much of our lower country frosts in winter, so our intention is to make hay from some of these areas, and the over-sow the paddocks with a winter active annual.

For the stored hay we anticipate a ready market as much of the area here, although green at present, is not far removed from a critical winter forage deficit.


Stand out features of the property at present are friability of the soils, and diversity of the pastures.

We look forward to introducing livestock to an adequately rested, and watered landscape in the not too distant future.

Till next time, good bye.
Shane

On farm strategies

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Shan and Shane Joyce

Image courtesy of The Australian Women's Weekly

Well, well, well here we are at Kumbartcho, Kilkivan two and a half months on from settlement date.

At the end month one I committed to paper a “progress” report of our activities in relation to “starting a new farm”. Wow a lot of “water has passed under the bridge” since then!

image of clear runoff over soils

Rainfall for January was 4.5 mm from four rainfall events, and February 42 mm from three rain events, and March 158.5 mm from fourteen events.

The February rain was one substantial fall of 40 mm on 17/02/14. This was the first rain to make any real growth in pastures. We then watched as the district became green, followed by a browning as it dried up!

Next big rain was 25/03/14 when the “big wet” started. 146.5 mm, over seven days. This has come at a great time and was followed by some nice warm weather. You can “hear” the grass growing!

Still the property remains free of livestock (except for the kangaroos). We estimate that it will now be about one month before we introduce some cattle and begin our cell grazing management of the pastures.

So just what have been some of the highlights of these past weeks since I last wrote?

Managing weeds

One of the first “manifestations”, after the February rain, was Giant Rats Tail grass. When everything else was struggling this stuff was just exploding out of the ground. An opportunity was seen, the GRT was highly visible and we moved immediately into a “spot spraying” exercise with a herbicide. Yes the organic farmer returns to chemicals!

I will reveal the logic in this. The GRT had had some ten years of not very effective management, and I identified a need to “seize the moment”. Six and a half days, five litres of chemical ($175) later we have covered all but one quarter of the farm. This has been immediately followed by a complete coverage of the farm with Biodynamic Soil Activator (RULE: Always follow chemicals with a biological).

As well we have made a “pepper” from GRT seed. To do this we have collected seed, burned it, and then “dynamised” it in a mortar and pestle (with Biodynamic soil activator and clay). This pepper is introduced into our radionics field broadcaster. From here it will work into the fertility, flowering, and seed set of the GRT.

image of giant rat's tail grass, seed and processing stages to make 'pepper'

Making GRT "Pepper" (L-R) Giant Rat's Tail Grass, GRT seed, GRT pyrolysis,
crushing in mortar and pestle, the final powder.

So there you have it, a three fold strategy to manage the GRT - chemical, biological, and energetic.

To apply a fourth strategy, we will use grazing management to increase the health of the 3P grasses (palatable, productive, perennial).

The grazing management will also help to increase the health of the soils.

Let us now look at some “economics” to this point in time.

  • 6.5 days spot spraying GRT.
  • Herbicide + Dye cost $340.
  • 6 days spraying Biodynamic Soil Activator.
  • Biodynamic preparations cost $0.

Observing biodiversity

One month into our new farm we had not seen any butterflies. That now is history! First there was one, then two or three. When we were spraying out the soil activator (19 – 24 March) there were butterflies all over the paddocks!

The birds recording exercise has not been boring either. Our bird species count now is up to forty-seven!

image of green pastures in paddock

I made a number of phone calls to council and National Parks and soon had a contact person who was “into birds” and she forwarded me a generic bird list for the area, which I can tick off new sightings on a month-by-month basis. A great resource to have as it gets everyone on the farm in “observation” mode.

It is good to build this “observation” skill in people and it soon “spreads” to earth worms, butterflies, grasses, trees, etc. Gradually an awareness of the farm environment develops, and it then becomes a wider awareness of the broader landscape out away from the farm.

So just what do we “farm” here?

We are farming SOIL. Yes our first objective is to re-establish a healthy soil, with diverse soil biology. This is our resource base, our “production factory”. If we can get the soil ‘right”, then we can look to produce some great “by-products” (beef cattle, hay, grain, produce).

One of the current “disadvantages” of not having livestock here is that we are “missing out” on the biology that they introduce into the soil. The state of the pastures (soils) dictated that we needed to rest the pastures (RULE: 60 days at beginning of growing season).

The Biodynamic preparations are our current “substitute” for livestock, and lack of rest was a far greater issue than a few months without livestock.

What next then?

1. Going by our soil tests we are deficient in sulphur, boron, and phosphorous. We are looking at what it will cost to “top up” these missing elements, and weigh this cost up with potential economic gains.

2. We will send off some tissue samples to find out what elements the plants are taking up from the soil and compare these results with soil tests.

Physically the demolition of old infrastructure continues, and we have “stripped” back the old house on the property and will soon commence to repair and make livable. This old house was moved here (1966) from town (where it was the head masters residence at the school). Built some where in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s it has “good bones”. We have acquired some of the history of the house and it’s various floor plans, and renovations. We look forward to bringing it back to life again!

We have made some valuable contacts in the local catchment, Landcare groups and will work with them to get funding for off stream watering for stock and seedling trees to plant on waterways.

image of green pastures in paddock

A healthy landscape