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.

Autumn Update

It is getting cooler on the Rock Farm.  The shorter days remind us of the approaching winter.  Regular readers might recall that a little over a month ago, we had almost no water or feed on the property and were looking at a the least worst option for our cattle (https://rockfarming.com/2020/02/03/weaning-and-a-rough-plan-for-the-cattle/).  Despite the initial promising falls of rain, and quick growth of some grass (and weeds), I wasn’t convinced that we would grow enough feed to get us through the winter.  We decided to go ahead with one of our options, to sell our steer calves, our heifer calves with horns and one cow, who was a little too aggressive for my liking.

 

The early weaning paid off, with the calves all averaging over 200kg.  We also sold our 400kg yearling steer Moo, that the Little Helper trained to halter back in July (https://rockfarming.com/2019/07/05/a-lesson-on-leadership-taught-by-a-calf/).  After the initial handling last July, he had been left to run with the cows, and had put on good weight.

We kept four of the naturally polled heifers – bringing our numbers back to 15 head.  As we returned the keepers to the paddock, we drenched them and put them into our large flat paddock with good feed.   I have a feeling we have one or two dry cows, but with the Corona Virus shutting down travel, my expert adviser (Dad) was unable to travel down to teach me how to pregnancy test them.  We will give them another chance.

In the mean time, we have all been working on little jobs around the house.  Jo has got back into the vegetable garden.  Keen to reduce waste, and make rabbit proof vegetable beds, she is re-purposing our old roofing iron to make raised beds.  Despite my initial doubts, it looks fantastic.

 

The beds are not chicken proof, and poor Sapphire doesn’t know what to do when the chooks ignore her steely gaze and leap up into the beds to scratch for earthworms.  It is hilarious watching her get more and more frustrated with the chooks who are more than happy to forage where they please.

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I tackled another job that only became important after using our neighbour’s horses as lawn mowers.  Our garden gate was in a sorry state and had fallen off its hinges.  More correctly, the hinges had fallen out of the rotten post.  The original post had sometime in the past assumed a lean, and a stop gap solution installed by owner previous was to simply put another post in the ground beside it.  The ‘new post’ had rotted completely out, so I dug out both posts and re-installed the original post back where it was originally.  The tractor saved my back lifting the heavy post.

 

 

After tidying up the fence – really hard to see in the photo below – it was nice to have a pair of gates that swing again.

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The boys have remained committed to their school work – but on the weekends we get a couple of hours of ‘farm work’ out of them.  Last weekend they were keen to get on the tools just after breakfast.  I am not sure if they love doing it,  or the reward of quid pro quo X-box time is worth it, but I’ll take any help I get.  It is good outside work that surprisingly I don’t find a chore, and it seems with tunes blasting from a portable speaker, neither do they.

Whilst the battle against the weeds is one I fear we may never get completely on top of, it is great to see some of the grasses in good condition and setting seed.  I am also really happy with the large number of earthworms we are finding in the bottom paddock.  I believe this paddock has been heavily sprayed for weed control in the past, and the earthworms are a sign that the soil is healing.

 

 

The good news is that the cattle are now relishing the experience of eating long grass – and are putting on condition before winter.  The lawnmowers managed to get ontop of the garden grass, so I even put them down there with the cows for a special treat.  Whilst Mater has spent a good deal of his life working cattle, our cows have never shared a paddock with a horse before and were most curious at their new paddock mate.

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I hope the warm weather stays around for a little longer.  The first frost will slow the grass grown rates significantly, but for now, we are getting a nice reserve to get us through the next month or two.  It is now time to service the chainsaw, replace the wood splitter handle and get ready for the winter jobs.

An inspirational story – Trees & Regenerative Agriculture

With the glorious sound of rain falling on our roof, it is extremely pleasant to take refuge inside with a steaming mug of happiness.  Well, after feeding the calves and repairing the tractor…. and buying some more bags of feed for the calves…. and making sure the tank inlets are clear of debris to ensure every drop is making its way into our tanks.

As I write, we have 13mm of steady beautiful rain in the gauge – just perfect timing after our big fall a fortnight ago.  All the established grass responded to the last fall and has been growing well, but the clover and other grass that germinated was just about to curl up and die.  This might be enough to get some good feed on the ground before it gets too cold to grow.

A day inside is never wasted, it is a wonderful opportunity to delve back into the books and online to find stories that inspire and motivate.  It is even better when one of those stories is about an old school mate, Michael.

I hope you have 12 minutes or so to enjoy the story of Taylor’s Run and how trees have not only made their property more beautiful and diverse, but profitable, especially in this drought.  I am exceptionally lucky to count this fella as a mate, and look forward to dropping in to check out what his family is achieving on our next drive through the New England.

 

When it feels like Summer

The chance of decent rainfall before the grass becomes dormant over summer has all but passed on the Rock Farm.  Dry westerly winds have persistently blowed over the past fortnight, removing any residual moisture from the ground.  These same winds have fanned bush-fires that are causing so much devastation in the north of NSW. As I write, over one million hectares of NSW has been burnt – and we aren’t even half way through November yet.  These fires are unprecedented in their intensity this early in the bush fire season.  But they were not un-predicted.  The biggest question is can we shape our environment to protect us from future fire events like this.

We are starting to understand that the Australian landscape has been carefully managed for tens of thousands of years by the Aboriginal people.  Small low intensity ‘cool’ fires created a woodland landscape that was recorded in journals and art of the early European explorers. These woodlands prevented the large scale devastation wreaked by huge fire storms.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that our bushland National Parks have more trees now than at any time since human habitation of Australia, some 30000 years or more ago.

Our aim is to create a woodland like setting on the Rock Farm, working with trees that are already established here, and planting new trees.  We want to create a sustainable agricultural enterprise that creates an income and a food source whilst improving the health of the soil.   This doesn’t mean returning the landscape to native bush-land, or what it looked like before European settlement, but something we can use towards the future.

Our plan on the Rock Farm, as most of you know, begins with trees.

With 1.3% of the state not in drought or drought affected (https://edis.dpi.nsw.gov.au/), it is a hard time to get trees established.  Our ground has very little subsoil moisture and our stock are getting hungry.  We had a few oak seedlings (quercus lobata and dentata) still in pots, we knew we had to get them in the ground if we are to have any success at all with them.

The tractor is an extremely useful tool to prepare the soil for tree planing.  I ripped a line beside the driveway to create an avenue of oaks.  Unfortunately I worked out too late that the tractor requires a little less air and a little more diesel in the fuel tank.  After refilling the tank, I couldn’t get the tractor to start.  After much troubleshooting following the fuel lines, I determined that I had a blockage in the line from the tank itself.  45 years of crud and muck had blocked the tank outlet.  A few good pumps from a bike pump back up the line seemed to clear the blockage, and after bleeding the lines again, we were back in business. Monty the horse found the whole exercise most entertaining!

On the other side of the drive we planted a stack of native shrubs.  Native Callistemon, leptospermum and melaleuca were planted to provide flowing shrub food source for bees.  This soil looked particularly bare and windswept.  We hope the shrubs are able to get established.

We planted a couple of the remaining oaks in the paddocks.  It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon with the family.  Although you don’t want to be the one who forgets his hat… If you do, you get to wear the bright green Mario Cart Hat!  We will water the plants every fortnight over summer with the IBC tank towed behind the go-anywhere-a-4wd-can falcon.

With the water tank on and helpers available, we also gave a drink to the other trees we have planted around the place.  Last time (Update on trees and rip lines.) you may recall I was cursing hares, who had snapped off our yellow box (eucalyptus melliodora) seedlings.  I had placed some tree guards around the snapped off bases and gave them a water.  I was extremely pleased to see that new shoots were coming from the base,

And why bother planting trees, especially during one of the most widespread droughts ever recorded?  Well, a walk through our small paddocks shows the results of the vision of the former owners.  In the shade from large deciduous trees is grass.  Green growing grass…. can’t get any more reason than that.

 

Update on trees and rip lines.

Walking around the Rock Farm this week, I have been struck by how similar to January the weather is.  Dry grass crackles underfoot, and in many areas the earth is dry and hard.  Hot dry days have us monitoring the Fires Near Me app, with a guard zone set 50km around the property.  We have been watering newly planted fruit trees in the garden in a desperate struggle to keep them alive, but I also knew I needed to check on some of the trees we had planted in the paddock.

We planted some Hakea and Yellow Box trees along some rip lines in early August.  The rip lines hold some extra moisture and we thought would be a good place to pant the trees.

After planting the seedlings, we watered them a few times to get them going.  It was good pre-season maintenance for our portable water tank, even if it looked a bit like a moonscape at the time.  A small shower of rain a couple of weeks ago had turned the grass in the rip lines green, and encouraged the weeds to grow.  Sadly it wasn’t all good news.

With occasional watering, the Hakea or Needle bush have responded well.  They are optimised for Australian conditions, and are naturally unappealing to grazing stock such as cattle or kangaroos.  When they grow, they provide habitat for many of the native birds that have shifted into living in the weed Sweet Briar.  Once we get these Hakea established, we will re-double our efforts to remove the Sweet Briar.

Unfortunately the Yellow Box has not fared so well.  It would seem a hare has taken to all the plants not in guards, and chopped them off a few inches above the ground.  A couple of the plants had clean cuts, with some buds below the cut, so we installed a guard and gave them a good water.  Time will tell if we have saved these trees.  The trees in guards were alive – but only just, and we hope a couple of good soaks will pull them through.

The rip lines have broadly been a success.  I had spent a fair amount of time in autumn and winter dragging an old ripper along contours:  (See https://rockfarming.com/2019/03/20/ripping-lines-for-soil-health/ ).  It was an experiment to see if the lines would allow water to penetrate the subsoil, and to aerate the soil.

The change on the rocky slopes is in a word remarkable.

The rip lines are clearly visible by their lines of green growing grass.  Between the rip lines, the grass is struggling to stay alive and the clover has all but turned up its toes.  With rain forecast for tomorrow, I hope that every drop that falls makes its way into the ground.  This is especially the case for short sharp summer thunderstorm cloud bursts that see a large amount of water fall quickly and run off before it soaks into the ground.  This might not be ideal for our dam that is getting lower and lower, but the grass is what the cattle and sheep need to eat.

It is great to see the boys and girls are in good health and condition.  Our calves and lambs continue to grow and are all nice and quiet.  The lambs are responding well to living near the house and are starting to come up to me when I appear with a bucket.

It might already feel like summer, but we are really pleased with some of the progress we have made in keeping the grass growing for a little longer on the Rock Farm.

Ripping Lines for Soil Health

With the tractor repaired, I was keen to press on and continue our journey along the path of improved soil health.  My next project was to test the effectiveness or ripping lines in one of our flat paddocks.  I have previously experimented with ripping lines on some of the slopes late last year, and the initial results are promising.  Moisture is remaining in these contours for longer than other areas, and we are starting to see green bands along those rip-lines.  See story here: https://rockfarming.com/2019/01/13/school-holidays-on-the-rock-farm/

The paddock for this experiment is a 1.8 hectare flat alluvial plain, with deep soil.  This flat area is the best soil on the Rock Farm – but in a short cloud burst we had before Christmas (35mm rain in 30 minutes), water sheeted across this paddocks. Barely any of the water soaked in before it made its way  into the creek.  (https://rockfarming.com/2018/12/17/of-droughts-and-flooding-rains/)

The paddock was heavily grazed for a week.  Then I spent an hour or so chipping out thistles and the odd serrated tussock to get the paddock ready for ripping.

A couple of hours with the tractor pulling hard in 2nd gear low range, and the rippers had opened up the soil in the 1.8 hectare flat.  I ran the lines about 5 metres apart, in a concentric spiral.   In areas where the soil was compacted, the rippers barely scratched the surface, however in other areas they penetrated a good 30cm or more into the soil.

The purpose of this is two-fold.  It aims to aerate the soil, increasing the microbial activity within the soil, thereby improving the availability of nutrients for grass.  It also allows moisture to penetrate deep into the soil, reducing run off and storing moisture in the soil for longer.  Pat Coleby is one of the many authors who recommend ripping lines along contours and I thought it was worth the experiment.  The main difference is she recommends ripping after rain… but with barely any rain falling this month, I figured I was best to see if we could open some of the soil up and ensure if any rain does fall, we could capture it.

Interestingly another technique to aerate the soil relies on grazing management.  As cattle eat the longer grass, the plant’s roots die off, and as they rot, the soil is opened up allowing earthworms to do the hard work.

It was interesting to rip a section of a much smaller paddock that the cattle had been in a couple of weeks earlier.  Whilst they had compacted the soil around the water trough, in the areas where the grass had been tallest (and since eaten), the rippers penetrated deepest, and didn’t turn the soil over.  This is a sign of deep friable soil – the best kind.  This encourages me that we are doing good things for our soil health, and that our soil rotation is working.

Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed for rain!

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.

Farm Chemical Disposal with ChemClear

One of the risks when buying a farm is what you find when you start going through the shed.  Farmers have an ability to see value in hoarding any thing that might possibly be useful. When they move, often much of the stuff is left in the shed as it “may be useful” to the new owner, and the shed on the Rock Farm was no exception.

Whilst we may have unearthed some fantastic treasures, we also found some skeletons.  One that has caused me the most worry was an old chest freezer packed with old drenches, herbicides and pesticides.  What was worse is that may of the chemicals were stored in old food and drink bottles and were unlabelled.  It was something that made me extremely nervous, especially with young kids visiting the Rock Farm.

Disposal of old chemicals is a real problem.  Whilst DrumMUSTER provides an avenue to recycle clean agricultural chemical containers, it is much harder to find an avenue to dispose the chemicals themselves.

And so it was a bit of a relief when I found ChemClear.  ChemClear provides a collection and disposal pathway for unwanted agricultural chemicals.  Whilst my collection was too small to make it worth registering for collection, I was extremely pleased to learn that they come to our regional council transfer station once a year.

I had been counting down the days until this morning, when ChemClear came to our regional transfer station.  I gratefully loaded up the ute with the toxic collection of goodness knows what.  The most concerning were the old food and drink containers with different coloured liquids in them.  I also had a large tub worth of expired animal drenches and a couple of 20 litre chemical drums with no labels, other than an ominous POISON stamped in the plastic.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, but the ChemClear team were ready for me.  As soon as I had pulled up, a team of appropriately dressed staff were unloading the chemicals and sorting them.  They told me that some of the chemicals would be recycled, but others would be destroyed, mostly through incineration.  They took them all, with the only question asking where I had heard about the program.

And the cost? Absolutely free.

Well not quite.  I did have to travel to our regional transfer station, some 60km instead of the 5km to our local transfer station, but it was a small price to pay.

I did then race home and take the old freezer / chemical store to our local transfer station.  It cost me $25 to dump the unit, where they assured me the fee was used to recover the refrigerant….that is if it had any left after 40 years or so of rusting away in the old shed on the Rock Farm.

I am extremely happy that our farm is a lot safer, and I am happy that the chemicals won’t cause a problem either for my family, visitors to our farm, or the greater environment.  If you have any old chemicals lying about, do yourselves a favour and check out when the ChemClear trucks are coming to your local transfer station.

A dry spring on the Rock Farm

My last post was about managing weeds during the spring growth.  Unfortunately the hoped for spring rain didn’t eventuate.  Even as parts of the State are getting some of their best rain in months, we have managed a paltry 3mm.  It is better than nothing, and might give the clover the break it needs to set seed!

Our property has an interesting arrangement where the road access comes in and past the house to the paddocks. Like all roadsides / laneways, this is rarely grazed, because of the inconvenience to traffic.  But it was the only part of the property the cattle hadn’t grazed and every bit of grass is precious at the moment.

Several fences needed to be fixed up, and water provided before I could contemplate putting the cattle in the laneway.  Even so, I still used temporary electric fence to allow the cattle right up to the garden – a treat they all enjoyed!

In fact the cattle were so happy to have access to the special grass near the garden, they hardly noticed me sneaking in close for a Selfie!

School holidays is an exciting time for the kids.  As they get bigger, their commitments grow too, with sporting camps keeping them busy for the first week.  These are fantastic opportunities for them, but I also love seeing them get creative in the shed.  Of course the dog is in the thick of it too, causing equal measures of delight and frustration at her efforts to help.

Speaking of the shed, our region is often windy in Spring.  Very windy.  And the old shed was looking a little worse for wear, with several sheets of corrugated iron roofing sheets looking like they wanted to lift off.   The shed is of unknown vintage, and in the fine tradition of most Australian farms, it has been made of second hand recycled iron and fencing wire.   It gives it a certain charm, but would be a huge inconvenience if it was actually destroyed.  A little bit of preventative maintenance was in order.

The advantage of so much sunny weather meant that I was able to replace some of the very loose nails with new roofing screws, without the risk of rain making the roof treacherous. I fabricated some brackets and purchased a harness to provide some comfort whilst working aloft.

And then there was the garden.  Neglected and in need of a bit (lot) of work, it was time to get the chain saw out for some ‘pruning’.  With a garden that is around 2.5 acres, there are always trees to prune.  The black wheelbarrow made the carting of the firewood size pieces a lot more manageable.

All the other branches and lighter sticks and twigs were thrown on the back of Myrtle – the big red truck, and taken down to the paddocks.  We found a remarkable sight.  Under similar tree prunings, deposited in the paddock six months earlier, we found growing lush, green grass and clover.

I think there are three possible reasons for this (or a combination of all three).

  1. As the branches break down, they release nutrient into the soil,
  2. The branches provide a physical barrier stopping kangaroos from eating the grass (this paddock has no other stock in it), or
  3. The branches provide shade to the grass, making what little moisture there is more effective.

Thus encouraged, we will keep putting our prunings into the gullies and over bare soil.  It is great to see positive results for our efforts.

On the Rock Farm, the only place where the grass has been most prolific in its growth is the garden.  With the current season being so dry, it feels such a crime to simply cut the grass with a mower.  But, the grass was getting long, and the snakes are coming out.  So I got right onto my next job, and brought in the one horse power self propelled mower model.  Best part is, you don’t have to sit on it as it gets to work – but that can be the best bit!

Spring – The grass is growing and so are the weeds!

Spring is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm. The warmer weather, coupled with the little bit of rain has caused a dramatic turn around on the Rock Farm.  Grass that was basically dormant over winter has started to grow.  Whilst the soil remains terribly dry, the grass is optimistically hoping to shoot up and set seed before the summer dries it out completely.  The garden is even starting to look a little unkempt, and I have put the battery charger on the mower, in the hope that it will get a run in the next few weeks.

But it isn’t just grass that is growing.  So are the weeds, and one of the most persistent and troublesome in our area is serrated tussock (nassella trichotoma).

Over winter the stock have grazed the paddocks thoroughly.  This makes the unpalatable tussock easy to locate and target.  It is hard work to manually chip out – and whilst it is our intention to use this method in the future, we need to reduce the amount on our property to manageable levels.

The most effective control of the tussock is a good permanent pasture.  Competition from healthy plants keeps the tussock in check. However once tussock is established, it is very difficult to get rid of.  It sets a large seed bank, and the seeds are dispersed by the wind, allowing the seed to travel a long way before settling.

Whilst I am generally loathe to use chemicals on our property, in the race against serrated tussock, it is the most cost effective method.  It is far quicker and easier than chipping out individual plants, and we hope to get on top of our tussock in the next few years.  Once we have it under control, we hope that aggressive chipping of identified plants will maintain our paddocks tussock free.

Our spray ‘rig’ is an interesting mixture of apparatus cobbled together.  A 12 volt pump provides the chemical / water mix through a jet spray nozzle.  A trigger on the nozzle allows control of the spray to spot on individual plants.

The chemical we use is a mixture of Flupropanate and Glyphosate.  This is mixed with water, dye and a surfactant. In the photo, you can see the red dye.  The surfactant breaks the surface tension of the water like a detergent, allowing the chemical to cover the leaves of the targeted plant for maximum effectiveness.  These chemicals are not great at all for the soil, or the microbes and earthworms that live in it.  This is why I really try to just spot spray the tussock, and minimise overspray as much as possible.

The boy’s buggy provides the 12 volt power, and the means to pull the little trailer around.  With 120 litres of spray onboard when full, it helps to make sure you start pointing down hill, as it is hard work on the clutch starting out!

After 12 months of sitting, my nozzle had seized up.  After pulling it apart, and cleaning and lubricating it, it worked a lot better, however had a small leak when the pump was running.  I decided that the easiest fix would be to install a switch near the steering wheel allowing me to turn the pump off from the drivers seat.  I found an old driving lights wiring harness, complete with relay, in the shed and soon had my ‘in seat switch’ in operation.

I also needed to lower the hitch height of the trailer in order to bring it to a more level ride.  I had a few ideas in my head, but eventually found an old steel post of around the right size.  Thankfully I also found a couple of long bolts in the shed, and soon had re-fitted the hitch.  The trailer isn’t level, but it is a lot closer than it was.

It takes me between two and three hours to spray out all the chemical in a tank.  I find it easiest to park the buggy and walk around when the tussock is thick.  For dispersed plants, I am able to wiz around and squirt from the comfort of the driver’s seat.  Who said weed control couldn’t be fun!

Whilst the weeds are slowly being brought under control, the rest of the Rock Farm residents are enjoying the warmer weather.  The cattle are getting quieter, however the sheep haven’t forgiven me yet for being vaccinated and the lambs marked last week.  But it sure is fun watching them all 🙂

More information on serrated tussock can be found here:  http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/123