Around the farm

With the little helpers both now in High School, we are finding ourselves spending more time in town.  Between before school music practice and after school sports training, our days are very full and busy.  As they should be.  Whilst part of me hankers for the simpler times when the boys went to our local primary school just down the road, they are growing up and are relishing in the new experiences and opportunities that a large school provides.

As we have now lived at the new Rock Farm for over 12 months, we have also started (albeit slowly) renovating the house.  The first priority is the installation of a large efficient slow combustion fireplace.  There is nothing like a cool morning to focus the mind and allow you to recall how cold the house was last year.

This means the farm part of the Rock Farm is not getting as much time for my attention as I would like to give it.  There has still been plenty to keep us busy, checking the stock water daily and moving the cattle and sheep into other paddocks.  Of course there are some gorgeous horses nearby that also demand attention – and somehow I always find time for a pat.

The cattle have been eating the remaining grass, and giving some of the weeds a good nibble in their quest for food.  They remain in good condition, which they will need heading into winter.  The skies, whilst looking promising have only yielded 2.5mm in the past two weeks.  The unseasonably hot days have burnt away any remaining moisture.

The sunsets though have been spectacular – and make me pinch myself every time.

The dry weather has put a lot of the trees under stress.  The native gum trees have a very effective method to cope with droughts.  They shed branches.  Unfortunately most of our trees are along fence-lines, requiring a bit of work to clear the branches.

Thankfully most of the branches were relatively small – and I was able to make some handy little piles of firewood for collection in a year or two once they’re seasoned.

I even was lucky enough to have a helper for a couple of hours – but he got distracted talking to the girls!

And then the helper wandered over and poured a bucket of oats on the ground for the other girls (and nearly ready) boys.

The sheep are managing to find some good grass among the weeds, and are all in healthy condition.  We have a few of our neighbour’s dorpers running with our sheep which are wiltipolls.  Both types naturally shed their wool and are bred for their meat.  The dorper tends to be a stockier animal, and tend to look more shaggy.

We sold most of the female ewe lambs, but are growing out the boys.  I will fast have to make a decision as to whether we send the boys to the sale yards, our put them in our freezer.  With two teenage boys in the family – I think that keeping the food miles to an absolute minimum will be time well spent.

I just have to find that time….

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:

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


How to sharpen a chainsaw

It is that time of the year again when the organised people have all their firewood neatly stacked in preparation for the winter season.  For the rest of us, the chill in the air means it is time to give the chainsaw a pre-season service and get ready to harvest firewood for the winter.  One of the most important parts of a service is to sharpen the chain,

Chainsaws work best when they are sharp.  Dull chains are slow to cut, and become dangerous.  An easy way to tell how sharp your chain is, is to check the size of your shavings – good size chips mean your saw is sharp.  Fine powdery dust means you need to sharpen your chain.  It might also mean you are cutting seasoned Australian hardwood, which can be almost impossible to cut with a chainsaw.

Cutting seasoned hardwood can be extremely hard on chains

Cutting seasoned hardwood can be extremely hard on chains – I used two sharp chains to cut through this trunk.

Many people find it easier to have more than one chain on the go.  I generally buy a new chain each year, and over the past few years have gathered half a dozen chains.

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