Taking on twenty acres is a big task. For someone who grew up on the 1/4 acre suburban block, moving to 1/2 an acre here has been a challenge at times. Have we bitten off more than we can chew with purchasing 20 acres? If I am honest with myself, late at night when the darkness crowds in and there’s nothing to distract me, the doubts sidle up alongside and I ask myself this. But the truth of the matter is, only time will tell and I am determined to succeed.
I’ve wanted to live self-sufficiently for a very long time and dreamed of farming on a large or small-scale for just as long so there’s plenty of motivation to make my dreams come true but there’s still that thing called reality. Some days I am sure we will wonder what we’ve done but I hope that if we set this up correctly from the get go then we should be able to grow with our property and manage it okay.
Setting up a permaculture property is a large part of how it will work. We are working with a permaculture designer to ensure we put in place the systems that will help ensure success. In short, water. This means marking out contour lines with which to begin. For those that don’t know, contour lines are lines on a map/the ground where there are joining points of equal height above or below sea level. Our block is, to the eye, relatively level. It’s only got a small drop over the course of the property which means marking out the contour points is rather fiddly. There’s no way to eyeball it and say that one way or the other is up or down. I figured marking the contours would take a day or two but so far we’re perhaps 1/4 finished and it’s taken about five days. There’s a lot of work yet to be done.
We (hence why it’s taking so long – it needs two people and Martin is working) both choose a starting point on the block and with our trusty bunyip water level, off we go, marking first 1 point then the other, then working our way by taking turns until we reach a boundary. What’s a bunyip water level? In simple terms it’s a tool that allows us to see where water is sitting level. In actual terms ours is 2 broom handles with a run of markings, such as centimetres noted exactly the same on both handles, some zip ties that hold 12 metres (or so) of clear plastic tubing up that runs from pole to pole. Not making sense? Didn’t to me either.
It’s a fundamental truth that water is level. Look at the surface of a lake on a dead calm day. It’s as flat as a mirror.I can guarantee that the elevation above sea level will be exactly the same on one shore of that dead calm lake as it is on the opposite shore.If the surface is disturbed, say with a stone, it returns to level as fast as it can.
Anyway, we’ve marked out many level points and the contours on our block are beginning to show themselves. it’s not quite what we expected, but we are seeing the patterns emerging and getting a real sense of how the property will develop. The contour lines will mark out where the swales will run. Now there are 2 different types of swales that I’ve learned about. The first one is the drain or ditch version that run along many of the streets here in Ballan, on a slight or more angle that directs the water to run towards the nearest storm water drain. This is not the type we are installing. We are installing water harvesting swales on contour – level.
I struggled to understand the concept until I saw this video of Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Intro.If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing (although I can’t recommend it highly enough) then here’s the point from where he shows water harvesting swales.
So, once we have marked out the contours on the remaining 15 acres, then we can introduce the diggers to install the swales and driveway. We are applying to dig a couple more dams too although that has to wait for council permission. At the moment it’s just a lot of apparently randomly placed bamboo sticks. I will share photos of the progress as it’s made. In the meantime it’s just my sticks and a not-quite full dam.
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It’s great that you’re employing a permaculture consultant. Are they doing the design for you, or just giving your guidance to come up with your own design?
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Hi Chris, I’d probably call it teamwork. We all have some ideas on layout and plans for what we do and don’t want to happen and our consultant has melded it into a basic plan. We’ve taken that and edited it and then she’s waved her permie wand over it again to make sure the pieces fit together, if that makes sense? There is a LOT going on. I don’t feel up to juggling it all without some serious qualified help.
It’s great to have the guidance. If only I knew what I do now, we would have designed this place completely differently. But we love her, warts and all, so can’t bare to leave and start again. Which is why I hi-five you for employing the permaculture design services, so early in the piece. It will be money well spent.
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