Problem Solving….

One of the things I love about living on the Rock Farm is the challenges that it throws my way. I find myself one minute learning about the life-cycle of earth worms, and the next researching how to change impellers on pumps, or learning about resistance in electrical circuits. I know that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most people prefer to live in houses where everything just works. And just for a moment last week, I was one of them.

In my last post, I revealed that we were pleased to be seeing progress on the Rock Farm. I should have known better than to brag…..

The first thing to break was the lawn mower. A particularly tough tussock caused the drive belt to slip and then before I could disengage the deck, the belt snapped.

The repair was simple. I ordered a new belt online and it was delivered three days later. Unfortunately I selected the wrong belt (there are two belts in these zero turn mowers). After realising this error, I decided to drop in and pick up a new belt from the local dealer. The dealer had none in stock. Two weeks and a couple of phone calls later I am still waiting for the belt to arrive….

The next thing to go awry was the ute. Having only just replaced the engine at great expense, I was alarmed when the glow-plug light started flashing, indicating a potential problem with the exhaust system. A quick check of the OBDII code had me terrified that the DPF (diesel particulate filter) had failed.

Thankfully I had a more advanced diagnostic tool and it revealed that one of the exhaust gas temperature sensors was malfunctioning. After unplugging all the sensors and putting them back one at a time, I was able to confirm which sensor was throwing the fault. YouTube helped me diagnose that the sensor was working correctly (resistance within the correct range) and the voltage at the other end of the plug was also correct. I ended up making a little harness to bridge the plug – and everything seemed to work – for a while.

It took me several frustrating attempts to determine that the sensor was reading the correct resistance only when the engine was cold. At some point it was failing when it warmed up. Don’t ask how many times I tested the resistance, until I worked that out. Once I was comfortable that the sensor was indeed stuffed, I then had the challenge of removing it. I needed midget hands, octopus arms, the strength of a gorilla and some helpful advice from the neighbour (and his useful universal joint driver) to get the old one out. A bit of work with the angle grinder on a 17mm ring spanner and I had the perfect tool to install a new OEM sensor, that was delivered in three days. A win!

Just as I thought I was on top of things, I came home from a long day at work to be greeted by my wonderful family with two new crisis. The first was that our refrigerator had turned into a cupboard and wasn’t cooling anything. The second was the toilets weren’t flushing.

The refrigerator was frustrating. It had only been back for just on a month after three week stay at the repair shop for the same fault. It didn’t take long for the helpers and I to load it in the horse-float to take back to the repairers for a warranty claim. That done, it was time to focus on the water.

No water in the toilets is an inconvenience in the house. The toilets are flushed with dam water, so the work-around is to flush the toilets with buckets of potable water from the laundry sink. The larger problem was the dam water also supplies all the water troughs.

And the Cattle were in a paddock watered by a trough.

It was bitterly cold and well after our bed time when Jo and I went down with Sapphire to move the cattle to a paddock with a dam. The cattle were super excited to see us. After 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to move them, both Jo and I were getting frustrated with the cattle, the dog and each other. It is moments like these when you question why we aren’t living in a shiny modern townhouse where everything just works.

It was time to call it, but I thought I would have a better chance on my own. Jo was grateful to be released back to the warm bliss of the house. Sapphire would have loved to stayed, but was being less than helpful, and was ordered back to the house too. After one more lap around the paddock with the cattle I shone the torch at the open gate. The girls looked at me, looked at the gate and happily trotted through the gate and waited for me to show them the next open gate. 10 minutes later I was closing the gate on their new paddock…

The immediate problem was averted, but the solution hasn’t yet been found.

Our rural plumbing arrangement has been an amazing exercise in patience. Close to 50 years of frosts, cars, cattle and horses seem to have made the pipes brittle and the joints liable to leak. The only problem this time was there was no leak. In fact with the pump running, we had no water in the system at all. The pump seemed unable to raise the water as far as the first tap in the line.

My first thought was that we had a blockage at the foot valve in the dam. Some chilly moments near the water’s edge revealed that whilst it was a little crusty, the foot valve seemed to be working as it should.

A bit of work following pipes has been interesting. Taps we thought were on the main line from the pump are actually on spur lines. One thing is for sure, I am getting a much better understanding of what lies under the ground the longer I live here! Unfortunately there is nothing here to suggest a blockage, so I am back to square one.

Google reckons that I need to check the intake and venturi, which I have done. The next item is the impeller could be worn. After goodness knows how many years of pumping dirty dam water, this is a distinct possibility. Thankfully Google also found a supplier of parts for our old Davey pump, and I eagerly await their arrival to see if my prognosis is correct.

All in all it has been a frustrating week or so. I have a broken mower, broken refrigerator and no farm water. On the plus side, I did get the ute back on the road after learning about how temperature sensors work.

But would I trade it for a shiny house in the city with all the modern conveniences? Not on your life.

Winter paddock rotations

On the Rock Farm we are continuing our rotation of cattle to fresh pastures, using the regenerative principles of Allan Savory. The cattle manage a pretty good job of eating the grass and a lot of the leafy weeds however they aren’t so keen on the woody weeds or thistles. After I rotate them out of their paddock, it is often worth slashing the remaining weeds, and then following up with the hand chipper a few days later.

The old tractor and mulcher make short work of the weeds and it doesn’t take long for the paddock to look like a lawn. The mulcher also breaks up dry cowpats and leaves the clippings to mulch back into the soil. Using this process I hope to slowly increase soil microbial activity, and encourage productive grasses to out-compete weeds. This technique has been effective against thistles so far, and whilst there are still plenty of weeds in the paddock, I am loathe to use chemicals to control them.

The shot above compares the freshly mulched paddock with the paddock the cattle were in previously, only a couple of weeks ago. The previously grazed paddock is recovering quickly, with healthy patches of barely grass, cocksfoot and clover growing despite the cool weather.

One of the great pleasures this rotation brings is the antics of the cows when you invite them to a new paddock. They carry on like newborn calves – despite their own ever increasing bellies! I love it.

The girls settled quickly into their new paddock – however I needed to duck down and make a small repair to their water trough. The cows not only came over to check out my work, they also gave poor Sapphire the border collie cross a fright. She didn’t know what to do when some gentle (but very big) brown faces came snorting through the window. She placed herself very much in the middle of the seat, as far away from the open windows as she could and kept a very close eye on the inquisitive bovines.

Winter is firewood harvest time. Our neighbours have a great stand of red-box regrowth that we had selectively thinned for firewood about 18 months ago. With that block being recently sold, we took the opportunity to collect the timber we had previously cut. The reason we selected young green branches and trees to harvest is that it encourages the remaining trees to grow large and straight. It ensures we aren’t removing habitat from the area, as most of the hollows required for nesting birds and reptiles are in the large old trees – like the brittle gum below. It also means the timber doesn’t need splitting either – a bonus. We have planted red-box trees on our property, and will be sure to harvest more seed from other red-box trees this year in order to re-establish a stand of these magnificent trees on one of our ridges.

In the meantime we have been slowly working through some of the piles of wire and steel that have been scattered around the Rock Farm. Over the past couple of years we have slowly rounded up dozens of 44 gallon drums, old gates, star pickets, and tyres. They have all been taken to our ‘resource centre’, and some of the steel being recycled at our local tip.

At times it seems like a never ending task, but every now and then we look back and see progress. Whilst it might not add to our little farm’s overall productivity, it does make the farm safer, and improves its appearance. It fits with our philosophy of trying to leave the land in better condition than how we found it.

The only problem is that my wife sees in every pile of scrap an opportunity.. Getting her to help me clean up the farm usually creates more projects than I finish, as her imagination transforms the items into wind-breaks, chook sheds, garden trellises and so on. And I must admit, that isn’t a bad thing 🙂

Getting Winter Ready

As the cooler weather comes to the Rock Farm, I have been busy trying to get everything set up for winter. Whilst our country isn’t cold enough to bring the cattle into sheds or barns over winter, my main focus has been increasing our soil moisture and pasture health to ensure our cattle have plenty of feed.

After trialing rip lines on different parts of the Rock Farm, I found we had most success ripping along the contours of our slopes. With a little rain forecast recently, I took the opportunity to put some more rip lines in a small paddock near the house. The forecast 10mm fell , and it was great to see the effectiveness of the rip lines in slowing the water down and allowing it to penetrate the soil. This was particularly evident in areas where the soil is hard, compact and especially hydrophobic. I hope this will encourage pasture to grow in these areas.

Another area we have been working on our pasture and soil health is on our alluvial flats. Regular readers may recall that we recently split our 5.6Ha flat paddock into three smaller paddocks (https://rockfarming.com/2020/04/21/autumn-school-holiday-project-new-paddocks-on-the-rock-farm/). The reason for this is that the cattle were selectively grazing their favourite grasses, and leaving the less palatable weeds. By making three smaller paddocks, we encourage them to heavily graze the paddock, weeds and all. A long period of rest allows the pasture to regenerate and this technique has been shown to improve the pasture quality.

Our experiment is still in its early stages, however the initial results are promising. After putting the cattle in the first of our paddocks for a couple of weeks, they had grazed the grass and most of the weeds. After moving the cattle out of the paddock, I ran the mulcher over the paddock to knock down remaining weed heads (hopefully before they had run to seed).

Three weeks later and the grass is growing. The photo above left shows an area that a few months ago was all tall thistles. The pasture in this area is now strong and competing with young thistle plants. I spent about half an hour with the chipper just working on the odd patches of young thistles, and hopefully will prevent them from growing to seed. The cattle have been moved to the next paddock and we hope to repeat the cycle in that paddock too.

Meanwhile the rest of the farm is being rested. One of my greatest pleasures is taking walks around the farm and observing the recovery of the other pastures. The change in moisture has encouraged some species of grass, like the Cocksfoot above left, to seed. If you look closely, you will see a Ladybird making the most of the shelter. These pleasures make all the effort of living out here all worthwhile.

But it doesn’t take long for reality to bite.

I arranged for a load of pasture hay to be delivered. This hay is insurance for a dry winter or a poor spring. I also look at the hay as fertilizer. It brings nutrients onto the farm, that the cattle will process into the perfect soil food. The hay took a little longer to unload as the tractor seemed to struggle to lift and move the bales – whereas it has previously lifted bales that weigh twice as much…

There is a constant requirement for maintenance and repair on any farm, and ours is no exception. Since mulching the first paddock’s weed, the tractor’s hydraulics had become problematic. The hydraulic pump was making horrible noises, and I feared that the diagnosis of a burnt out pump or bearing would be terminal for our old tractor.

A bit of research online started to lead me towards thinking I might have a problem with the bypass valve. On our tractor this is located low on the chassis, with the hydraulic oil filter. Thankfully the former owner gave me the Owner’s Manual and a new filter when I purchased the tractor. The manual described how to replace the filter and more importantly how to clean the fine mesh of the bypass valve. The clean and new filter was an undoubted success with the tractor hydraulics performing like new again! Phew.

I should have done the maintenance before the load of hay arrived, but I was terrified I’d break something and have no means of unloading the hay. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

So now I have a shed full of winter hay, a tractor that is fully operational and paddocks that seem to be becoming more productive. I love nothing more than my ambles around the paddocks. Life is good on the Rock Farm.

Best I turn my attention to that other winter activity – harvesting some firewood.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 2)

It has been a hot couple of weeks on the Rock Farm.  We have been busy watering trees, feeding cattle and trying to stay cool.  The bush-fires have been an ever present threat.  This instalment comes from the (not so) Little Fisherman. 

Due to the weather, we have not been able to work much on the float since the other Little Helper did his last blog (The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 1)).  The last couple of days have been total fire bans with one of the days even being a catastrophic fire danger day.  But the next day brought some relief.  The temperature was set to be a maximum of 28 degrees Celsius, and the fire ban had been lifted!

We decided to use the break in the weather to replace some of the rusted frames in the float.  Our replacement bar for one of the more rusted floor sections, was slightly to small and did not have the strength needed of it (Dad will take more care to purchase steel of the correct dimensions next time).  Despite this, we still managed to replace some of the other frames on the side of the float.

This turned out to also be the perfect time for me to hone my grinding skills…  Although it took a while, I managed to successfully remove one of the old bars and clean up the cuts, before cutting a new piece (A tad to long).  I also asked dad if I could weld the bar in place, but after watching him struggle to weld the thin steel we decided that I would do more harm than good.  Instead, I took my new-found grinding skills to finish making my mother’s Christmas present.

After the horizontal struts were in place, we realised that we needed to replace one of the vertical supports.  This meant that dad had to cut up some of his pre-existing welds to put the new piece in place.  Let’s just say, I don’t think that he was to happy with having to re-weld the weak steel.

Meanwhile, the little helper was cleaning up the tailgate with a wire brush and a lot of elbow grease.  After he had finished polishing off the tailgate, he proceeded to rust-proof all the exposed metal he could lay eyes on with some ‘Rust Converter’ (phosphoric acid).

A couple of days later, the weather cooled down again.  We took this opportunity to remove the fibreglass section of the roof.  This proved somewhat difficult as many of the rivets where rusted in place.  We ended up drilling out the rivets.  After some effort we got the roof down, where it now lies, waiting to be sanded, patched and painted.

All in all, we have made many very important structural repairs and have begun looking at the roof.  Hopefully the next blog will be about reattaching the roof and possibly finishing our structural repairs.  We are looking forward to being able to start re-assembling the body of the horse float soon.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 1)

For something different, the (not so) little helpers have a school holiday project that they will work on over summer.  Not only that, they have agreed to update their progress online.       They have a tight budget to work on, but we hope to turn this old float into some pocket money.  The main priority is to make the float completely solid and safe, not just to drive on the road, but also to carry precious horses in.  Turning a profit would also be nice – and should be achievable when you’re used to earning $10 per hour….  But enough from me – over to the Little Helper for his take on the holiday project.  

 

The school days are over, and on the Rock Farm the holidays have started. It’s great to lie back, throwing a ball for a very energetic dog, whilst enjoying a smoothie that would break the world record for the most sugar consumed at once. And it’s awesome the sleep in and not wake up at six o’clock to catch the school bus. Holidays are fantastic.

They are also good to look back on the year and see what we achieved, what happened, what went wrong, and what we can do next time.  Something that I noticed about this year, is that my brother and I achieved almost nothing together. Sure, there were the days where we made catapults, swords, and things to whack each other with, but there was nothing where we did something to learn new skills. (comment from Dad – I would disagree – I love the things they have done where the didn’t even realise they were learning!).

So, these holidays we asked Dad for help, and we started a new project – horse float restoration.

There has been an old horse float down near the stables. It hasn’t been undercover and it has just sat there, rotting itself apart. With the help of Dad, the ute, and the air compressor, we got the old float up to the shed for some pretty major repairs.

We started by taking the wheels off, and after years of rust, the nuts holding the wheels on weren’t feeling like moving. Even after I stood on the tyre lever trying to make the bolts spin, the nuts stayed attached. Only Dad could undo those bolts.

After the wheels were sent rolling, we started taking out the floor. This was more challenging than we had hoped because the bolts had rusted so much there was basically nothing left of them.  The old nuts had seized to the metal frame. So, we called in Dad with the grinder. After an hour of grinding, levering, and swearing (comment from Dad – speak for yourselves!), we pulled the hardwood beams from the frame.

This was all that we could achieve at the time, because the following few days were forecast to be above 40 degrees with total fire bans in place. Sadly, taking apart the horse float involves a lot of sparks.

But there was still one thing we could do: paint scraping.

To be honest, I am so over using the wire brush and chisel. After scraping every single piece of paint off, every side, every corner, we could finally put down the brush and smile. But that’s only the start. We still need to put the rust preventer on that Dad got us, and then paint, replace the rusted beams, put the floor back in, redo the wiring, replace the springs, check it all works, and make it look nice.

We have some more to do, but due to the heat we can’t progress at the moment. So for the time being, we can go back to our smoothies, and relax.

 

Every blade of grass counts.

The past week had seen the end of spring. Hot days above 30 degrees and some wild winds have dried out the grass. Many people in the district nervous for the bushfire season and our local RFS training is ramping up.

On the RockFarm, our lambs have been eating out their small holding paddocks. This is a good thing as the paddocks are close to the house, and the less grass here the better coming into summer.

Between the two paddocks is a channel for water. Water hasn’t flowed down here for months, but it naturally holds a bit of extra moisture and therefore grass.

There isn’t enough grass to make it worth fencing properly, but it was worth spending an hour to rig up a little race for the lambs to have access to the lane. This allows them to come and go as they please, with water in their paddock.

The old gates were around the hay shed. When we replaced them with the old roofing iron from the house, we kept the gates handy. I can now understand why farmers never seem to throw anything out!

The lambs love it, quickly disappearing in the long grass. The only problem is they will be through this in about a week.

I hope to move the lambs soon to our large flat paddock. It is fenced with hinge joint stock mesh. It is mostly sheep proof, but wombats also hang out here – and they have no respect for fences!

It is a constant job patching holes. Old star pickets, short rolls of old netting and logs or branches hopefully create a barrier that works

I will have to check the fence again before we move the sheep into this paddock – but hopefully it won’t take too much extra work to keep them in.

And then as the sun sets it is nice to sit back and relax feeling great about living in paradise.

The hint of rain

The past few weeks have been a little hectic on the Rock Farm.  Calving and lambing has continued.  Life has also continued, with some big weeks at work and school keeping us all away from the farm for longer than we would like.

First an update on Daisy.  Daisy and Mum have rejoined the herd and have settled in well.  Daisy has put on weight and enjoys her fellow bovine’s company more than humans now.  This is not a bad thing – although I miss our cuddles.  She might never do particularly well, but we are really happy that both Daisy and mum are now in good health.

With the long-term forecast for spring rainfall looking grim, we elected to sell off our older ewes and ram.  With such a small herd of 13 to take to the sale-yards, it was hardly worth organising a truck.  With a bit of time, I soon had the sheep loaded in the horse-float and passed the lambs out the tailgate back into the yards.  The irony was on the day I took the sheep to the sale yards, we received our first decent rainfall in months, a delightful 22mm.  It was a rare and unusual problem to be loading the sheep in the rain!

Selling the ewes solved a couple of problems.  It reduced the immediate pressure on the feed, and also stopped me having to retrieve them from the neighbour’s on a regular frequency.  I must admit I felt a little dwarfed by all the trucks and semi-trailers unloading stock at the yards, but the stock agent showed good humour and helped me pen the sheep.

The lambs are now enjoying some time near the house, where we are supplementing their feed.  They are becoming much quieter, hopefully making them easy to handle as they grow.

The little bit of rain was welcome.  It settled the dust, but more importantly it turned the grass green.  We are still feeding, whilst we wait for the grass to grow.

If you do want to find water though – I would highly recommend hiring a Kanga.  Jimmy and his marvellous machine have an amazing ability to find water pipes.  After successfully digging holes for our carport foundation, we decided to make the most of his visit with a couple of extra post holes for gate posts….  it was the last hole (it always is) when the auger came up with water pouring out of the hole…

Needless to say I am becoming pretty handy at repairing poly pipe.  Thankfully we were able to quickly isolate the water, which was non-potable water from dam.  Around the house it is used for flushing the loo and around the garden.  This water also supplies all the stock troughs – so I needed to get it repaired relatively quickly.  It has highlighted the need to install a valve so I can isolate the garden water quickly in case of future mishaps!

After repairing the pipe, it was time to head back with the girls.

I have moved them onto the flat country.  Whilst there isn’t much feed here yet, I am just rotating them through the smaller paddocks.  I hope they will keep on-top of the Barley grass, but it all seems to be going to seed early as it struggles with the dry season.

Time will tell what the season holds.  In the meantime, we have developed a plan for the cattle which we will start to implement in a few weeks.  For now though,  it is lovely to see a little water flowing in the creek again.

Keeping Warm – Part 2

After enduring one winter at The Rock Farm, we quickly realised that the house was like living in a tent.  It was hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter.  We installed a new fireplace as the first stage in warming the house (Keeping Warm – Part 1).

The second stage was a lot more drastic  it involved replacing the roof.

The house was built sometime in the mid seventies.  It would have been quite chic in the day, but the builders failed to install any insulation in their stylish flat roof.  40 years had also caused a few leaks and the old galvanised sheets were rusty in places where water naturally pools.

We investigated options to replace the roof with a lovely truss roof, but ultimately finances led us to decide to replace the old galvanised iron with a new zincalum product and install R4 batts in the cavity with an extra layer of anti-con under the sheets.

This is where we could get involved as a key part of our plan was to remove any redundant penetrations in the roof.  The largest and most obvious was the old brick chimney.

There didn’t look to be too many bricks on the roof, but it was a fair load in the back of the ute!  The old bricks were put to use stabilising a gully head.

Mark from 24SEVEN Plumbing got stuck right in removing the old sheets.  He worked in sections, taking off a few sheets and the filling the void with insulation, before installing new clips and the new sheets.  Whilst the sheets look similar, they are a completely different profile and size.

The install wasn’t without problems.  The old clips were nailed into the hardwood rafters, making removal an exercise in brute force.  Also the evidence of rats was apparent with one junction box showing exposed wires.  A panic phone call to a nearby sparky soon had it safe.

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The gutters and exterior flashing will also be replaced soon, and will not only increase the functionality but also the appearance of the house.

The old sheets have been stacked on the back of Myrtle, the old Mercedes.  We will use some of them around the place, and will try and sell the rest at some stage.  Have I said how handy this truck is for odd jobs!

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The difference is remarkable.  From a house that routinely dropped below 10 degrees overnight – even with a fire burning, we are now keeping the living space around 19 degrees.  It is a different house, and I have a very happy family.

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But don’t take my word for it! I think the dogs love it too. At least I’ll know where to find them until for the next few months!

 

Keeping Warm – Part 1

When we moved into the not so rocky Rock Farm, we knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us.  From bringing fences and paddocks back into order, managing the weeds and maintaining the water supplies – there is no end of projects to keep me amused.

To keep from being overwhelmed, we developed a master plan.  On one branch of the master plan was two words….  Renovate House.

We gave ourselves twelve months to live in the new house before touching anything.  And a good thing too.  Updating the kitchen and bathrooms moved down the list as the cool weather came and we decided that making the house warmer was essential.

The main heating for the house came from a slow combustion stove that had been installed into a brick wall.  The small fire struggled with the large space it was trying to heat, especially as there is no insulation in the house whatsoever.  Pulling the old fireplace out revealed a full brick hearth from an earlier open fireplace and chimney.  We couldn’t imagine how cold the house would have been with an open fireplace in the lounge room!

We recruited a couple of helpers to remove the old hearth – that had been extended when the slow combustion stove had been fitted.  Demolition was good fun – and created an abundance of mess.

Then came the tedious part of setting up for a new fireplace.  We elected to brick up the old fireplace entirely and render the wall.  A brick layer I am not, but I found it easier to do than rendering.  It took me three coats to get a finish we were happy with.

We tinted the render with a blue-stone oxide that matched some stone paving stones.  We carefully measured the size of the base to ensure it met the required clearances.  Jo found an old shearing shed frame that we used to make the timber surround.  We trialed the fit many times to try and get it right.

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At this point it was time to get the professionals in.  We were lucky to get Phil, the same installer who fitted a similar fireplace at the original Rock Farm.  Phil worked hard to ensure the fireplace sat perfectly in the hearth – and we were lucky that the flue missed all important structures in the ceiling cavity.

We had also fitted and oiled the timber – and were thrilled with the result.  The best part was it only took a day or two before we had a cold snap – just the excuse to light it up and set the paint.

There is still a long way to go to make the house warm and we have a few plans we will look at soon.  Meanwhile if the pooch is anything to go by, the fire is a roaring success. 🙂

School Holidays on the Rock Farm

School holidays are in full swing on the Rock Farm.  The boys have been turning petrol into noise on their motorbikes, building tree houses in the gum trees, and playing in the dirt.  They have also been learning a few other skills such as fencing, planting trees, repairing said motorbikes and fixing broken water pipes.

The holidays have also been a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and family.  This, in conjunction with a series of extremely hot days, has slowed the normal rate of progress on the Rock Farm, and that isn’t a bad thing.  We have enjoyed the opportunity to slow down and enjoy good company, and the odd quiet afternoon, with the air conditioner on, in front of a movie with the family.

The ongoing requirement to repair our fences continues.  On one of the cooler mornings, The youngest helper and I replaced a small section of fence.  A few days later the whole family helped run hinge joint around a small 2 acre triangle paddock near the house.  This will allow us to bring the sheep into this paddock and hopefully contain them!  It was pretty hot work, and it times tempers flared due to Hangry boys.  The result will be a handy little paddock allowing us to keep a closer eye on the sheep.

We have been lucky to experience a couple of summer storms this season.  With a bit of moisture in the soil, I thought we would get away with planting out some acorns that had germinated.  These oaks are Daimyo Oaks (Quercus dentata), also known as Japanese Emperor Oak or Korean Oak.  These trees have large leaves, and are part of our plan that should see the Rock Farm renamed “Oak Park” one day.  The oaks draw nutrient from deep in the ground, provide shade thus retaining moisture, and the leaves return the nutrient and organic matter to the soil when they fall and mulch.

Then it was back onto the serious business of making tree houses in some existing trees!

The summer storms often provide short bursts of heavy rain that mostly runs off.  Any technique that increases the amount of rainfall captured into the soil is to be tried.  One technique, pioneered by P.A. Yeomans and recommended by Pat Coleby is to rip lines along contours, opening up the soil allowing moisture to penetrate deep into the ground.

Our last property (the original Rock Farm) had deep rip lines put in by the previous owner.  These lines trapped moisture and were clearly the greenest part of the property on satellite images.  Trees benefited from being planted in the rip lines, as their roots could seek out the moisture stored in the cracks of the rocks.

Unfortunately the old single tyne ripper wasn’t up to the tough Ordovician Shale that underlies our fragile slopes.  Only a few lines into it, a large rock twisted the tyne worse than before.  Despite several attempts to gain leverage, I was unable to straighten the tyne.

The good news was that leaning against a tree, forgotten by owners previous, a double tyne ripper was leaning against a tree.  It had been there so long, a tree root had grown over a tyne, vastly complicating my efforts to put the ripper on the tractor.  It took my wife and I a good hour to eventually get the ripper fitted… but it was worth the effort!

And the result was success!  Using a piece of clear pipe filled with water and threaded on the ROPS, I was able to get a reasonably accurate contour ripped across the slope of the paddock.  It took a little while for me to get the draft and raise response where I was happy with it, but the old tractor performed flawlessly.  The rip line was only 150mm deep – but that was deeper than the soil and into the rock layer.   Now I just need it to rain to test the theory.

The school holidays have also had the boys learning some other important lessons.  They are still young enough to play in the dirt – and were enthusiastically making tracks for matchbox cars when they received last call to come in and have a shower before bed.

The final throw of the digger resulted in an unmistakable gurgle and their construction rapidly filled with water.  After years of observing me, they correctly recognised that they hadn’t found a fresh water aquifer just below the surface, but rather a poly pipe.  I took some solace from the fact that the rapidly appearing water was our non-potable water supply to our garden and toilets… not our precious house supply that runs under the ground only a couple of metres away.

The good news was that it wasn’t my fault.  So I had if not enthusiastic, then certainly guilty helpers to:

  • run to the dam and isolate the pump (long way down hill)
  • run to the tank and isolate the tank (long way up hill)
  • dig a much larger hole to expose the pipe
  • measure the diameter to check if we had the right fittings (which we did – good planning Dad)
  • carefully cut the damaged section of pipe out with a hacksaw
  • replace damaged section with a joiner fitting
  • run back to pump and turn it on
  • run back to tank and turn it on
  • watch and check for leaks

It was the quickest I had ever replaced a pipe – and I barely raised a sweat… In fact I did a lot of not much except pointing, and asking for tools, most of which live in my pipe repair tub.

As the sun set and the light faded, we turned the water on and held our breath.  It worked!  All in all it was a pretty good outcome – the kids learned some important skills, and I realised how grown up they are becoming.