Sustainable firewood harvesting – Cut it green!

It is that time of year on the Rock Farm, when harvesting firewood becomes a high priority.  With our first frost on the ground, the dog has taken up residence in front of the slow combustion stove, and will only venture outside for calls of nature.  It is a beautiful time of year, but only if you can be snug and warm inside.

Our slow combustion stove is fired by firewood I try to harvest from the Rock Farm.  Our farm isn’t heavily wooded, but I want to ensure that I am able to sustainably harvest firewood into the future in a way.  And I do something a little different – where possible I try to harvest green wood!

There are many advantages to cutting green wood:

  • Green timber is far easier and quicker to cut that seasoned hard wood
  • Chainsaw maintenance and sharpening is reduced
  • Green branches are less likely to be hollowed and therefore homes for native animals
  • The green leafy parts can be used for paddock mulch
  • Larger logs can be left in the paddock to encourage insect activity
  • The smaller branches mean less splitting of logs later.

The main disadvantage of course is that you need to leave the timber for a year or two to season, and this means you need to plan ahead.

One paddock on the Rock Farm has many brittle gums (eucalyptus mannifera) and I have selected these as the primary target for my sustainable firewood harvesting.  This allows the Red Stringybark (eucalyptus macrorhyncha) and the red box (eucalyptus polyanthemos) to continue to regenerate.

I select a tree with many branches originating from the stump.  After checking for birds nests, I select one or two of these for harvesting.  Being quite small, they are easy to handle and safer to cut than old standing timber.

This young tree will recover quickly from such a small trim.  I have left a log to encourage insect activity into the future

One of the key components of soil fertility is insect activity.  Around any old log you will find richer soil and a multitude of insects and worms of all types.  Unfortunately when most paddocks are cleared, all the logs are also removed.   Down the road at Mulligans Flat, scientes and rangers have added hundred of tonnes of ‘coarse woody debris’ or logs to the reserve to boost the biodiversity of the area. It is a fascinating topic worthy of much discussion, but you can read about the science behind it here: http://www.mfgowoodlandexperiment.org.au/aboutMFGO.html

The small branches are leaves are used to cover bare earth and boost young trees – native mulch

I also use the small branches to cover bare soil or areas in need of some protection.  This is a technique we have been using on all our bare patches of soil with great success.  Garden clippings, basically any organic matter is placed over bare soil, encouraging plant growth.

This wood has seasoned for just over 12 months. In the background you can see the large log that will be left for the beetles and insects

The smaller pieces dry out quickly meaning they are able to be burnt after 12 months, however I find a minimum of two years is ideal.

12 months on – the leaves are breaking down slowly… and the young trees are growing strongly

And does it work?  Yes it does, but it does require a fair commitment to build a big enough reserve of timber far enough in advance to see you through winter.  We don’t always cut green timber – I did fell a large red-box stag this autumn.  Its stump is surrounded by young red box trees which are far to small to harvest in this manner, but it is an encouraging sign for the future.

Of course the one who gets most benefit of the slow combustion fireplace doesn’t care where the wood comes from… as long as it works!

Apparently it is cold outside

Apparently it is cold outside

 

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Water Water – Improving a watering system

When we moved to the Rock Farm, our garden was irrigated by dam water, pumped by a petrol pump.  To water the garden, we would have to walk down to the dam with a can of petrol, and try to start the pump.  More often than not, the pump would be hard to start and our garden would be left parched and dry for another day.

The first step was to give the petrol pump a service, and to build a small shelter or pump house for the pump.  This helped considerably, and the pump is now far easier to start.  But it was still a long way from the house, and turning a tap on to water the garden required a considerable effort.

Water water - Improving an irrigation system

Petrol pumps are useful for moving large volumes quickly, but are tiresome when used to water gardens

Something had to be done, and we decided on a two-phase approach.  The first phase was to install a header tank up near the house, with an electric pump on it that could water the garden on demand.  The second phase was to replace the petrol pump with a solar pump and ball valve that would keep the header tank full at all times.

The most cost-effective tank for its size is the 5 000 gallon / 22 500 litre poly tank, and we ordered one from our local rural supplier.  It arrived a week or so later and was carefully placed (dropped) from the truck on my leveled site.  Thankfully I was able to move the tank into the right position with a couple of ropes and the four-wheel drive.

Water water - Improving an irrigation system

Positioning the water tank – using four-wheel assistance

The plan was for the existing piping system to remain largely unchanged.  A short extension was added from the 2 inch feeder pipe to allow the tank to be filled by the existing petrol pump.  I needed a mechanism to bypass the new electric pump, so I added a  few valves to allow me to fill the tank, and then run the electric pump from the tank back into the piping system.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Plumbing inspector checks the scope of work

It took a while and a few attempts to get the piping installed and checked for leaks.  In the configuration below, the petrol pump on the dam can be run to fill the tank.  Once the tank is filled, I can then switch two valves and use the electric pump to irrigate the garden.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Testing for leaks – always a nervous moment… can you spot the little drip?

The fittings I used are good quality, but decidedly expensive.  The pump is a cheap one, but easily replaced should I need to.  I have found cheap fittings don’t last, but have had good luck with the cheaper pumps.  To give the pump a bit of protection from the weather, I also built a small shelter for it.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Building the pump shelter

We leave the power switched off and the tank isolated when not in use, as we have a few leaks in the irrigation system that I am still working through.  That said, it is much easier for us to open a valve and turn on the power to have water on demand in our garden.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

All done

During the peak of summer, we were able to water our garden every couple of days, without the difficulties of starting the old petrol pump.  We found that because we could use the water easily, we did use the water, and we were able to nurse new fruit trees through the worst of the summer without loss.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

And now water restrictions are lifted, we can use the water for all sorts of important things, like seasoning new swags!

The second phase of our plan – the solar pump on the dam – has been relegated to the bottom of the priority list for the next few years.  The little Honda pump keeps working away without fault, and now I am only running it once or twice a month, my tolerance and patience with it is much less likely to wear out.  It also provides a good redundancy in case of bush fire.

Water water - Improving an irrigation or garden watering system

Old faithful gains a reprieve!

Drawbacks of living on a hobby farm

Just as we discussed some of the great things about living on a hobby farm (here), it must be said that there are some disadvantages to living on a farm.  Whilst I love every minute on the Rock Farm, I can freely admit that living out of town is not for everyone.  If you find any of these drawbacks sound like they might apply to you, then perhaps you should visit a farm for a weekend at a time.  If you think you’re ready to take the plunge and take a tree change, these are somethings that you might consider before leaping in!

Distance from facilities

Hobby farms by their nature are out of town.  This means that if you forgot to buy the milk or bread, you have to make up your mind whether it is worth returning to town for a little shop, or go without until your next trip into town.  You can’t roll out of bed and stroll down to the cafe on the corner for a cup of coffee…

drawbacks of living on hobby farms.

You may spend more time looking at this view than you’d like

This means that we tend to buy extra food.  We have a stash of long life milk in a cupboard.  We own a chest freezer that rarely gets below half full.  When I visit a hardware store, I tend to buy extra – to make sure I have enough to finish whatever job I am doing.  Yet despite this, occasionally we do run out of stuff, and we have to make a decision.  Is it worth travelling all the way back into town for – or can we wait until our next trip.

With no public transport other than the school bus, owning two cars is an essential part of living out of town.  The cars provide an important safety link, particularly important as we are a long way from Ambulance services.  Both of these vehicles do a lot of kilometres each year.  There is also the added risk of stray animal strike – meaning both our cars are fitted with bull-bars, and the option of a small runabout as the second car is not very appealing.

drawbacks of living on a hobby farm

Keeping the cars running is essential – especially if you need to conduct running repairs after a kangaroo strike

There is always something to do

Be it feeding the animals, watering trees, repairing fences or mowing the lawn, there is always something to do, and always an unfinished task.  Whilst we love this active lifestyle on the Rock Farm, we have plenty of friends who love coming to visit, but acknowledge that ours isn’t the lifestyle for them.  It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the things you want to do on the hobby farm, but by setting a long term plan, and prioritising your efforts, you can make it a lot less stressful.

drawbacks to living on a hobby farm

There are always little jobs to do on a hobby farm

Going away requires lots of planning and sometimes cashing in on favours

Going away for the weekend is easy enough, but leaving for more than a night or two requires a bit of planning.  We need to ensure the dog and the chooks are cared for, and the stock are in a paddock with plenty of feed and water.  If there are neighbours with teenage kids eager to earn a few dollars, then you may be able to arrange for someone to keep an eye on things for a nominal rate.

If you have house-sitters, you find yourself worrying about how much water they will use, if they understand how to reset the pump if the power goes out and they myriad of other little things you quickly learn to live with on the farm.  Sometimes they can be more stress and heartache than not having them at all.

Access to services

Most hobby farms don’t have access to services such as town water or sewage.  With water storage tanks and septic tank systems widely available, it isn’t really a problem for many of us – and the bonus is you don’t pay water rates.  That said, you have to make your own arrangements for water.  If you have a small roof area, or small water tanks, you may find you need to purchase water – particularly in hot dry spells.

Many hobby farms don’t have a weekly rubbish collection service.  We carefully sort our rubbish, and store it.  Once a month or so, we take it to the local tip.   It is messy, dirty work, but it does remind us exactly how much landfill we create.  This means we recycle and reuse as many items as possible.

drawbacks of living on a hobby farm

Garbage Truck

The Internet is another service we struggle with.  When Telstra politely advised us that ADSL2 would be connected to our home on 15 December 2028, we really felt as if we were being left behind in the digital age.  Thankfully we are able to access a 4 G signal form a special antenna on our roof, meaning we can still get high speed data access from a 4G dongle, albeit at great expense.  We are presently investigating the Sky Muster satellite based NBN to see if we can improve our internet plan.

Cost of living

There is an increased cost of living when you live on a hobby farm.  You might be able to offset some costs if you qualify as a primary producer, or if you’re able to supplement your income by selling your produce.  But if you’re like most hobby farmers, you have chosen to live on your piece or paradise because of the lifestyle it provides, not the income it generates.

Despite the obvious larger mortgage required for a hobby farm compared to the regular house,  you may find the standard mortgage lending criteria don’t apply.  Depending on the size of your hobby farm, you may require a 20% deposit.  Check with your mortgage provider before you have your heart set on that nice little 40 hectare block!

You will also find the cost of insurance is more expensive on a farm.  In many instances you will require business insurance.  Again this will be determined by the size of your farm, where it is located and the stock you run.

Having to run two cars, and drive large distances, we spend a lot of money on fuel and time in our vehicles.   Whilst most of our driving is easy country miles, we still have to maintain our vehicles, and service intervals seem to come around all too frequently.

Cost of upkeep

As a responsible landowner, you will have additional costs that come with looking after a block of land.  Some of these include:

  • Fencing.  Steel wire and fence posts are inordinately expensive.  Getting someone to install fencing generally doubles the cost per metre.  The old adage that good fences keep good neighbours certainly runs true.  Your neighbour will not take kindly to your wool shedding ram covering his prize winning fine wool merino ewes!
  • Weed control.  There are many noxious weeds that can be found on rural blocks.  If you leave them, they multiply at an alarming rate, reducing the carrying capacity of your land.  You may also receive a fine from the Local Land Services department for not managing your weeds.  Spraying or mechanical control (digging them out or mulching) is expensive too.
drawbacks of owning a hobby farm

Weed control can be hard work, expensive or both!

Time Wasters

Little jobs take longer than you plan when you have lots of helpers on the farm.  Even simple stuff like testing the PH of the soil can take longer when you are visited by a gorgeous four legged friend who is after a cuddle (the two legged variety is gorgeous too!).  It is easy to get distracted, and finishing the task at hand can require a concerted effort to stay on track.

Of course I am biased – we love living on the Rock Farm.  We think that the benefits from living out here far outweigh the disadvantages.  It is very much a lifestyle choice but it does come with disadvantages.  We don’t have the trendy cafe just at the end of the street.  Our school is a 15 minute drive, work is 45 minutes.  Every trip into town is considered and if we can avoid it, we do.  Holidays require a little more planning, but really no more than anyone with pets.  Like all things, you make your choice, and live with the consequences of it,

Good luck with your decision.  If I have missed any thing, please let me know.  🙂

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The decision to move to a hobby farm is not to be made lightly.  There are many considerations that must be thought about before taking the plunge and buying a hobby farm.  If you’re thinking of buying a hobby farm, or making a tree change, these are some of the best things we love about living on the Rock Farm.

Serenity

There is something incredibly peaceful about waking up to the sounds of nature, not traffic.  Whether it be the chatter of birds, the breeze in the trees, or the sound of silence, we take pleasure in these sounds every day.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Nothing like the sun rising over the hobby farm

Our view is of rolling hills, not roads and apartments.  The air we breathe is clear, and at night the stars blaze in the sky.  Often on a full moon, we all walk outside and stand captured by the beauty of the night sky and the moon’s majestic rising.

I find there is a peace that settles on me after I come home after a long day at work.  A hobby farm should be a place that recharges your soul… each and every day.

Healthy active lifestyle

Being on a hobby farm, it is easy to find excuses to get outside.  Other than the obvious work tending the vegetable gardens, or harvesting firewood, there is plenty of scope to have fun too.  The Little Helper loves nothing more than kicking about with his best four legged friend.  Together the boy’s have a wonderful time building forts, tree houses or even helping me fix fences!

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The boy’s love living on the hobby farm

I find it much more rewarding to spend some time and effort doing something around the hobby farm, than to spend my money on fancy gym membership.   The physical activity keeps me healthy, and I feel good knowing I have contributed something to the farm or the family.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Nothing like taking a walk with friends… on the hobby farm

There is nothing nicer than going for a walk around the property along the boundary fence.  It is good exercise, there is no traffic to watch out for, and often you have some friends follow along too!

Teaching kids

I’ve alluded to this earlier, but the hobby farm gives so much to the kids.  Both our boys love living on the farm.  For them it is one big adventure playground, but please don’t tell them they are learning far more than just how to ride horses or motorbikes.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Who said checking the boundary fence was boring!

They are learning all kids of lessons.  Lessons about how to fix fences, repair small engines, care for animals, care for the land, the differences between weeds and grasses, and the list goes on.  By the age of nine, they were both driving a car.  They can check the oil, and change a tyre.

Best reasons for living on a hobby farm

Changing a tyre… adjusting the brakes or fixing a wheel bearing – these kids can lend a hand to almost anything

More importantly, they are learning responsibility.  They have to check and feed the chooks each day.  The horses need to be fed, and rugged in winter.  They know that we volunteer in our community and can’t wait until they’re old enough to join the Rural Fire Service.  In the meantime they come along  and help set up or pack up for fundraising functions.  Their little chores become foundations for a responsible life.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The Little Helper loves his chooks on the hobby farm

Freedom – with consequences

Our hobby farm allows us enormous choice.  Whilst we still have council rules to comply with, we have a lot more freedom as to what we can do on our place.  We can run just about whatever kind of stock we want. If we want to paint our house purple, or make a track for the kid’s motorbike, we can.

Top reasons for living on a hobby farm

Watch TV, or go for a ride…. tough choice!

If we want to run a sprinkler on a 40 degree day, we can… it is our water.  That said, we are also responsible for the consequences.  If we run out of water, then we will have to buy some.  But I am much happier being in control of our destiny, than being dictated to by some council.

Healthy Food Choices

Whilst our little hobby farm isn’t self sufficient, it allows us to explore healthy food choices with our children.  We try to encourage our children to tend their their own vegetable beds.  Nothing teaches them the value of food more than trying to grow some vegetables themselves.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

Fresh vegetables on the hobby farm

We also can explore ethical raising of animals for slaughter with our children.  I think it is extremely important that we understand our food supply chain.  Our children are well aware that we have a responsibility to our sheep for their welfare.  We are comfortable knowing that our sheep have a wonderful quality of life, and that their slaughter will be humane.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Poddy lambs – one will grow to make jumpers… the other will taste delicious. Both will have a great life.

Custodians of the land

One of the most exciting parts of owning a hobby farm is the sense of responsibility we have to future generations .  Instead of watching the TV and seeing the consequences of years of misunderstanding and neglect of the land, we see ourselves as part of the solution.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

Tree planting with the good folk at Greening Australia – restoring the health of the soil

Our land was cleared and then heavily grazed in its distant past.  We are excited to be planting thousands of trees in spring to start returning health to the soil,.  We  also  will be  trying to graze a small number of sheep (and the odd horse or two) in a sustainable way.  We believe that we can strike a balance between the need to conserve nature and our requirements to feed our selves.

Connection with nature

Our hobby farm abounds with native plants and animals.  In spring, a walk around our paddocks is a stroll of discovery, with so many native plants bursting into colour.  We have kangaroos, walaroos a plenty.  In the poa tussocks, we often find shingle back lizards, marsupial mice and the odd echidna.  Our hobby farm is a teeming hot-spot of bio diversity, but that is not to say we can’t do better.

Top reasons to live on a hobby farm

The shy echidna – a delightful visitor at the Rock Farm

When harvesting firewood, I generally cut green branches off living trees.  I leave a part of the branch on the ground to become a log for beetles and other animals to live in.   The leafy branches are left to mulch and return nutrients and organic matter to the soil.   Over time this will help improve the quality of our soil, but importantly increase the biodiversity on our place by providing habitat for the insects and small animals that underpin it all.

Community

It’s a funny thing, but I think the further apart people live, the stronger the community is.  We might not be able to see our neighbours, but our community is strong.  We are part of our local school, Rural Fire Service, and Scout Group communities.  Our children are growing up to be responsible members of our society.  It is wonderful to share this journey with them too.
Every day our choice rewards us with an immense feeling of satisfaction, but it does have some minor drawbacks.  I will talk about some of these in my next blog.

Let me know what you love about living on a hobby farm 🙂

Best vehicle for a hobby farm

I have often been asked what is the best vehicle for a hobby farm?  And the choice is bewildering.  There are side by side ATVs, quad bikes, tractors and even 4wd utes that can all be mighty handy on a small farm.  It depends a bit on your terrain, but if you don’t need a rock crawling 4wd, then you have a wide variety of vehicles to choose from.

For us, the vehicle must be:

  • Cheap to buy – this counted out the ATVs, quad bikes and even 4wds
  • Reliable – it must start first time, every time
  • Light – to reduce soil compaction
  • Easy and cheap to maintain
  • Practical – it must be able to carry a load
  • Safe – which counted out quad bikes due to their extremely poor safety record

Our farm vehicle met the first and most important criteria.  It was cheap, very cheap.  In fact, we inherited our paddock basher by good fortune when we bought our farm.  It might not have been our first choice in farm vehicle – but it has proved to be every bit up to the task.

The mighty Mitsubishi Mirage with its trusty 6×4 box trailer has had a rough life.  One time wrecked in a hail storm, it became a regular commuter running up well over 300 thousand kilometres in its on road life.  At some stage it finally failed registration, and became a farm only vehicle.  It continues to amaze me with its amazing feats of strength and endurance.

The best paddock basher, the best farm car

The mighty Mitsubishi Mirage – Could this be the best farm car ever?

I have often said what it lacks in ground clearance, it makes up for with enthusiasm.  The small wheels and minuscule ground clearance is a bit of a risk, but we have only managed to get it stuck twice.  Usually a bit of right foot pressure (sometimes in reverse) is enough to get us out of mischief.   It also is able to use many talents you wouldn’t dare use on a road registered vehicle, such as carrying 8 metre lengths of timber… on its roof!

Best farm vehicle ever

It can carry long loads with ease

Of course things don’t always go to plan.  I did have to replace the air cleaner after it became fully blocked.  The fuel filter has been bypassed, and the main engine fuse was repaired with a bit of wire (I did replace that with a new fuse to reduce the chance of starting a fire).  Surprisingly the engine still starts first go, and it doesn’t use any oil.  The fan belt is looking very shabby and will need to be replaced soon…. when it finally snaps.

At some stage in its past, it did suffer a major hit to the right front wheel bending the axle back.  This eventually led to the steering arm falling out one day.  It was repaired in the best bush mechanic tradition with some fencing wire.  Unfortunately it will never steer quite the same again, but as it rarely gets above second gear, it is unlikely to be a real problem.

Best farm car

It is easy to maintain. If it can’t be fixed with either of the three hammers, then it will be retired.

The trailer is nearly permanently attached, and is nicknamed the wheelbarrow.  It is certainly used as such, moving garden prunings to the paddocks and collecting fire wood.  The floor is all but rusted out, but some rubber conveyor belt keeps the good stuff in the trailer.  The frame of the trailer has also been reinforced with an old bed frame – making it as strong as the day it rolled off the factory floor… er… almost.

The Wheelbarrow is put to use

The Wheelbarrow is put to use

This poor car has been used as a ladder when lopping high branches.  It has jump started the lawn mower on the odd occasions it is required on the Rock Farm.  It is used to check the fences, collect firewood, haul water and even move rocks.

The best vehicle for hobby farms

The full load of water was a bit much for the front wheel drive car – but half a tank is well within capabilities

But perhaps the best thing this car has done is allowed the Little Helpers the opportunity to learn to drive.  I have now been demoted to “Gate Opener”, as the Little Chauffeurs drive me around the place.  It took a bit of time for them to master the clutch – and we still struggle with hill starts, but both of the boy’s feel super important when I ask them to take me around the paddocks.

Best farm vehicle

The little chauffeur standing on the roof – just because he can

It is simply a lot of fun!  The fact that I don’t mind if they ride the clutch for a bit, or scrape the side against some shrub means that we can all have a great time.  And that is what makes this the best farm vehicle ever.

The best farm vehicle

I have been demoted to Gate Opener… and I love it!