FIXING WEAK LINKS

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!

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!!!

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

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!

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.

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!

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.

PETER ANDREWS’ MANAGEMENT OF VEGETATION & SOIL HYDROLOGY

Peter Andrews took over management of Tarwyn Park when it was severely degraded and salinised. He spent many years researching and applying innovative ways to restore landscape function, based on building soil condition and managing water movement through the landscape. Today the property is a leading example of regenerative landscape management.

Peter and his son Stuart, who now manages Tarwyn Park, hosted a field day on 14 April to explain the methods used and show the results achieved. Read on for some of what we learned and for images from the day…

Peter Andrews explains his philosophy of soil hydrology management to Field Day participants.

Plants colonise land according to the land’s potential to host those species. The first colonisers, that we often call ‘weeds’, establish in degraded and disturbed soils. Their function is to build up nutrients and soil structure and enable other plants to follow. As nutrients develop in soil, so more valuable plants inhabit the landscape.

Accordingly, there is nothing to be gained from removing ‘weeds’ early, because the greater the biomass to harbour increased nutrients and produce organic carbon, the faster the progression to more desirable species. We need to sponsor and replicate natural processes of plant succession as a function of landscape regeneration.

Weed’ species are important to help return nutrients to degraded or exposed soils.

When asked about the controversial use of willows in his landscape, Peter explained, “Yes. I have planted 3000 willows. Look along the creek and see how many have survived among the casuarinas. Of course, the casuarinas would not have survived in that creek line without the willows. So what did the willows do that was wrong?”

Peter Andrews uses willows to stabilise creek banks and act as pioneer species. Fast growing willows protect the slower-growing casuarinas, which eventually dominate the creek lines.

Participants raised their perceived concerns with willows, however, the strongest objection seemed to be that they are an introduced species. Peter responded, “Willows are early colonisers that stabilised the creek system to allow the casuarinas to develop. Sure, they are an introduced species … and so are we. And the hard footed animals that have so damaged our native environment over the past two centuries … they are introduced species also.”

Clearly, willows can be used as just another management tool to help regenerate the landscape.

It was also noted by NRM specialist in attendance, Peter Hazell, “The willows that have survived in the creek are weeping willows which are not listed as weeds of national significance.”

Stuart and Peter Andrews hosted an informative day.

Similarly with the management of soil hydrology, we need to replicate natural processes. We need to develop flow patterns that slow water and have it moving through the soil to distribute soil nutrients and support vegetation – rather than flowing across the top. Vegetation growth in turn protects the soil, moderates temperature and reduces evaporation.

Field Day participants were treated to a demonstration of the different way water interacts with the soil when its flow is slowed. By placing some straw mulch to divert the flow across the gradient of a farm track, the benefits of diversion and filtration were illustrated: the water spread more widely and was absorbed, rather than running off – even on the well-compacted track. We can mimic these practices in our landscapes to restore healthy hydrological function.

Peter demonstrates and Stuart explains the simplicity of management of soil hydrology and nutrient transfer.
Field Day participants observe what happens when the flow of water is slowed.

By revegetating higher ground and using these areas for stock shade, this also allows for the transfer of nutrients and carbon up and across the landscape. In managing this however, we need to be careful that stock camps do not develop as sources of potential gully erosion. Active management, observation and response are critical components of regenerative agriculture.

Soils from sandstone cliffs have been improved from years of management which replicate natural processes.

The innovative solutions on display at Tarwyn Park are tools to increase productivity and to overcome many of today’s farming issues including:

  • declining fertility (and low soil carbon)
  • dryland salinity
  • stream, gully and wind erosion
  • watershed dislocation
  • lack of biodiversity
  • lack of farm water availability especially in times of drought
Costa Georgiadis takes part in the Field Day.
Costa always on the lookout for great soil.
Management of soil hydrology helps develop soils rich in organic carbon.

The health of the Tarwyn Park landscape and its soils are the best evidence that Peter Andrews’ soil hydrology management practices can work. If you work with landscape processes, you will reap the results.

As summed up by Peter and Stuart:

Slow the flow
Let everything grow
Careful where the animals go
– and filter is a must to know

Peter challenges beliefs – and gets everyone thinking.

Watch the original ABC Australian Story episodes on Peter Andrew on the unofficial Tarwyn Park, Peter Andrews & NSF website or read the transcripts.

Find out about future Tarwyn Park activities via the Tarwyn ParkTraining Facebook page.

Walking the spectacular, thriving paddocks of Tarwyn Park.
Thanks to Anne O’Brien who shared her photos of the day with us, some of which are included here.