It’s not just weeds that are growing on the Rock Farm

There is no doubt that this is one of the best spring season’s this district has seen in recent memory. Our cattle are in remarkable condition, with the calves growing quickly.

With so much condition on the cows, they have already started cycling. We decided to go with nature and bring forward our leased bull. Ferdinand, as he has been named by the family took a little encouragement to get off the truck, but once he made it down the ramp, he was welcomed quickly into the herd. A magnificent Charolais Cross, his sire was a top performing bull in the United States, especially bred using artificial insemination by our mentor, John. We are extremely fortunate to be able to use some of the world’s best bloodlines in our humble herd.

With the cattle doing extremely well, and requiring little more than a daily water check, I have had time to turn my attention back to more domestic matters. The garden has exploded, and I have been spending quite a bit of time either pruning excess growth or removing branches and trees that died in the drought and haven’t recovered. Unfortunately Jo and I have slightly different objectives with our pruning. I want the area under the trees clear of obstructions so I can mow easily up to the trunk with our mower. Jo would rather I leave the branches down to the ground to make a wind break.

The best thing about a little battery powered chain saw is that you can do a whole heap of pruning before you get caught… It is also the worst thing. I think the shock of seeing the truck laden with clippings caused a moment, but once Jo realised how neater the trees looked I was almost forgiven… almost. The clippings, along with some weeds from garden beds, have been used to make swales in the bottom of the garden to better capture water in the previously dry area.

All Jo’s work in the vegetable garden is starting to really pay off. We have harvested our crop of garlic, and the snow peas and green salad leaves are in fantastic condition. We even enjoyed some broccoli before it shot to seed.

I admit I was skeptical about using the old roofing iron to make vegetable beds, but Jo did a great job. The garden looks really impressive, and is a pleasure to work in. There is also something completely wonderful about the taste you get with fresh vegetables and salad leaves picked straight from the garden. I once heard it described that you can taste the sunshine – and I think it is true!

But it is not just the vegetable garden that is putting food on our plate. We are finding magnificent field mushrooms in the paddock. Each mushroom could be a meal in itself, and we have dried some of our excess mushrooms to use in the future.

Other things are growing too. I have planted fifty willow cuttings along the leading (and eroding) edge of our dam. It seems most of them have taken and are sprouting green leaves. This is a great result. Some people have queried why I have planted willows along the dam, fearing they use a lot of water. My counter is that they only use water for half the year when they have leaves on them. They will \stabilise the bank, which is their primary purpose. They will give shade when they are bigger, and also provide an emergency stock feed in drought. Being on a dam, they will not enter the catchment either. I hope they continue to grow through the summer and add to the trees on the Rock Farm.

But really the most magnificent change has been the grass. From a paddock that was bare six months ago, there is now chest high grass. You could have seen an ant walk across this paddock at Christmas time (if you could have seen through the smoke haze)….

Last week the kids played hide and seek in this paddock.. All you had to do was run like crazy when the other one was counting and then flatten yourself. With the grass swaying in the breeze, it was really hard to even know where to start looking It was hilarious fun.

It is incredible to see photos of what we went through in the last few years. This is what the same area looked like in January. It is truly amazing what happens when you just add water, lots of water ūüôā

Little Achievements Make a Big Difference

With soaking rain falling over much of the eastern sea-board, I have enjoyed the opportunity to sit back and reflect on some of the little projects that have been happening on the Rock Farm over the past few weeks. Each little project in isolation doesn’t make a big difference, but when we do step back from our immediate tasks, we can see progress, which is incredibly rewarding.

One thing any gardener or farmer knows is that like rust, weeds never sleep. I try to get out every few days with the chipper and spend an hour or so enjoying the great outdoors. I tend to work on the isolated thistles or tussocks, as I figure the big patches are easier to come back to.

Occasionally I think that it would be far easier to spot spray the weeds, however when I find healthy earth worms under the sods, I quickly regain my motivation to use the manual chipper. Lately nearly every sod I turn over has an earthworm scurrying for cover. Earthworms are especially susceptible to chemicals, like the canary in the coal mine, and to find so many in the paddocks is heartening.

In other areas around the place we have been busy too. We finally got around to putting some blue metal under our carport. Later Jo put in a nice brick edge, which makes the whole area far more attractive, and I will take a photo of it soon. The worksite supervisor approved of the tractor relocating the gravel, making the whole job a lot easier than I planned.

Not all the gravel went to the carport. We decided it was better to get another rain water tank to better mitigate our water risk next drought by increasing our storage capacity to around 90 000 litres. The tank needs to sit on a bed of gravel. Thankfully the family were able to help me move the 22 500 litre tank into the perfect position and we soon connected the tank, increasing our capacity by 25%. My favourite addition was a little tap, allowing me to get some potable water up at the shed when I need!

Another job on the list since we moved in was to replace the gates at the hay-shed. Or at the very least make the gates swing open and closed. Our local rural supplier had a pair of 16ft (4.8 metre) gates in stock – and they looked a whole heap smarter than the existing bent and wired together gates. I put in a new post, and swung the new gates in position. We used a bit of left over roofing iron to clad the remaining gap to fit the rest of the shed, and we now have a much smarter and more functional hay shed.

Our quest to harvest food from our land also continues in our garden. For the past few months, Jo has been steadily plugging away at her vegetable garden. Keen to recycle as much material as possible, we have been using old heavy gauge steel from our roof. Our first garden beds have healthy rows of garlic and peas growing, with cauliflowers and broccoli coming along nicely. The latest beds will be ready in time for spring planting, and we hope to increase our production once the threat of frosts reduce. I must admit I was sceptical about how the garden would look when Jo first proposed using the old roofing iron, but I am converted. I can’t wait to get the new beds full of vegetables and see what we can do with it now.

None of these projects have been particularly large, but they have all taken a bit of time to come together. And when they do come together, they combine to make our little patch more useful and enjoyable for us.

In amongst it all, we have still found time to go and check on the girls. They are all in excellent condition, and I cannot believe I haven’t had to start hand feeding them yet. The paddock rotation system I have in place is working really well, and they follow me from one paddock to the next now. Whilst not quiet enough to pat, they are inquisitive and will come right up to you if you’re quiet and move slowly.

Whilst we might have got some of these little jobs finished, there are still plenty more ideas we have for the Rock Farm. The best part of a rainy weekend is being able to sit and dream and keep putting new ones on the list….

Every woman needs a She-Shed

A couple of months ago we started a project on the Rock Farm to make a Potting Shed, to store Jo’s gardening bits and pieces.¬† In order to build Jo’s She-Shed, Jo had been collecting second hand iron, fence palings, doors and windows for a while.¬† With the other shed getting cluttered, the timely visit of Jo’s parents and my brother made the time was right to turn her plan into reality.

Whilst the shed was to be clad and finished with recycled (upcycled?) materials,  for ease of construction I requested new material be used to build the frame.  Jo was keen to get stuck in and do most of the construction herself, which was fantastic.  Although I must admit she did seem a little too comfortable with the nail gun!

The frames were fabricated in sections on the floor of the shed, and brought down on the back of Myrtle, the big red truck.¬† Jo’s dad, a retired engineer, ensured that everything was braced and square.¬† As more and more bracing was added, I felt confident that the whole structure was extremely solid.

We wrapped the frame in some excess sarking we found in the shed.¬† This should reduce the drafts.¬† We haven’t insulated the she-shed, but we did later line the shed with plywood sheeting.

We sourced the windows from the local recycling yard for $20 each.¬† Our original design was modified as the windows we initially chose didn’t fit in the horse float.¬† These old timber windows were extremely heavy, and I appreciated my brother’s help to lift them into position.

The cladding was a combination of old Lysaght Corrugated Iron, and old hardwood timber palings.  The timber was rather easy to split, but mostly held up to to being attached with galvanised nails.

We found a couple of old posts for the front lean to in a paddock.¬† Unfortunately they were too short to reach the ground, so we improvised with a couple of old 44 gallon drums filled with old broken bricks.¬† The end result is an extremely solid structure I am confident won’t go anywhere for a long time.

The doors were out of an old office block.  Again, they are extremely heavy solid timber doors that cost a pittance at auction.  We bought some new door furniture as none of the original mechanisms worked.

We have since put some flashing on the roof and installed a gutter.  The last job is to pave the front area and build a step into the shed.

The internal fit out was left to Jo.  We found an old table lying in the paddock under an Elm tree.  The timbers of this ancient table were protected somewhat by a galvanised sheet placed over the top.  After removing the resident Huntsman and Redback spiders, we brought the table into the shed.

I am glad we saved this table from the elements.  I often wonder with old pieces such as this what their history was.  It is a little wobbly, but we were able to prop it up and make it reasonably flat.

It didn’t take long though and the she-shed was rearranged.¬† Old bookshelves and dressers that had been cluttering up my shed were relocated and set up in the newly lined she-shed.¬† Jo has since slowly set it up with a place for everything, and I am happy that I have space back in my shed too.¬† It has been a great little project that we both have enjoyed working on.

Which means that now I’ll have to start work on the next project… the carport.

How to build Wicking Garden Beds – Part 2

In my previous post, we constructed the base of some self watering wicking garden beds (you can read all about it here).  We made our wicking beds out of old railway sleepers, recycled corrugated iron and other timber we had lying around.  You can make wicking beds out of anything suitable for holding the weight of the gravel and water you plan on putting in them.

The next step is to line the beds with some cardboard or old carpet underlay to protect the water proofing plastic liner.

How to build a wicking garden bed

Cardboard can be used to line wicking beds

If you have some old carpet underlay, you can use it to line the beds.  Most underlay provides a good base that is resistant to rotting quickly.  It doesn’t have to be pretty – just cover the base.

How to build a wicking garden bed

Old carpet underlay is ideal for lining wicking beds

The next step is to line the base with a waterproof membrane.  We initially priced pond plastic, but it is incredibly expensive.  A suitable alternative is builder’s plastic.  We bought a large roll, which we doubled over to give two layers.  The tape holds the plastic in place while we fill it.

How to build a wicking bed

Builders plastic is held in place temporarily with masking tape

Now comes the fun part.  Time to fill the beds with gravel.  We constructed a ramp to make it easier to run the wheelbarrow up and tip gravel into the beds.  This is done in stages.  Firstly a 100mm layer of gravel is put into the base of the beds.  We used 20mm recycled concrete for our gravel bed, mainly because it was extremely cheap.

A temporary ramp for the wheelbarrow helps when filling the beds

After you have a 100mm gravel base, it is time to put in the irrigation pipe.  We used standard 50mm PVC pipe and brackets for the filler tube  or riser.  To distribute the water quickly and evenly through the bed, some 50mm Agricultural Pipe (ag pipe or drainage pipe) was curled around the bed.  The PVC fittings were glued, using PVC glue, however the ag pipe was simply taped to the PVC pipe using cloth tape.

How to build a wicking bed

The Ag Pipe is laid on a 100mm bed of gravel.

Once the filler pipe and ag pipe is in position, the hard work begins.  If you’re able to hire a strapping young lad for this part of the process, then that makes life a lot easier.  We enlisted the help of a friend’s 15 year old and in a few hours of intense labour, managed to fill three of the new beds with gravel to the required depth.

How to build a wicking garden bed

Filling wicking beds with gravel is easy if you have a helper

With the gravel filled to the required depth, it is a good idea to check for level.  You can do this with a fancy sirit level, or by filling the beds with water.

The next step is to put a drain in the beds.  We used a 12mm irrigation pipe, protected by a 19mm pipe.  Some old pantyhose over the end stops mosquitoes from breeding in the beds.

The half inch irrigation pipe is protected by the 1 inch pressure pipe offcut

The drain is hard to spot, and the pantyhose mesh stops mosquitos from entering the beds

Once you have the drain installed it is time to put some weed mat or shade cloth over the gravel.  This helps keep the soil on the top from disappearing into the gravel.  It also allows the moisture to wick into the soil.

Finally it is now time to fill the top third of the beds with soil.  Again it is handy to hire a strapping young assistant for this process, but if you don’t have one to hand, I’d suggest gently asking the person who desired the beds to be built to lend a hand..

How to build a wicking bed

Do not offer advice during this phase of the construction – or you might find yourself wearing some of the wonderful compost!

We were fortunate to source some of the most expensive compost in the world for our garden beds. You buy good quality horse food, and process it through the said horse. Then you mix it with fine quality straw, that is used for a short period as a soft bed, before the horse wees and tramples it into the mud. This product is then turned and mushed for a few days before you rake it and apply it to your garden beds.

How to build a wicking garden bed

Alternating layers of soil and compost helps build organic matter in the wicking beds

And you’re done.  If you’re like us, it will be just in time for winter – a particularly difficult time to grow anything on the Rock Farm.  I guess it doesn’t matter when you finish your project… it is just important that one day you do finish… even if it is 18 months after you started!!!

Good luck and happy vegetable growing ūüôā

How to build Wicking Garden Beds – Part 1

If you think lush green vegetables require too much water to produce  successful crop, or if water is a precious resource, then think again.  Wicking or self watering garden beds may provide the solution you require.  Even of the Rock Farm, we have been able to enjoy some fresh vegetables during a long hot summer by this simple principle.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

Lush green vegetables even in severe drought.

Wicking beds essentially provide water from below, meaning that they are particularly frugal with water consumption, especially during a long hot summer. ¬†They also don’t cost a fortune to make – especially¬†if your wife is a hoarder and you have plenty of old railway sleepers and corrugated iron lying about the place.

The basic concept is simple.  Water is held in a reservoir at the base.  Moisture is drawn up into the soil via capillary action or wicking.  The moisture is distributed more evenly through the soil, creating better growing conditions for plants.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

Basic design principles – wicking bed

The best part is that you can make these beds out of almost any material.  It is simple to modify the style and shape of these beds to suit your garden or materials at hand.

We chose to make our wicking beds in a wedge shape around a central fire pit.  This allowed us to recycle some original railway sleepers.  In this way, each wicking bed only used three sleepers.  The 2400mm sleepers were cut at the 16000/800mm mark to make the wedge shape.  The corrugated iron sheets were 2400mm long.

The first step was to clear the ground where the new beds will go and get everything nice and level.
How to build a wicking garden bed.

Once I was happy that the base was in the right spot, I placed the next sleeper on top, and secured it using a backing plate and bugle head screws.  This is extremely hard work on the electric drill.  Indeed it destroyed my first drill Рso be careful with your drill.  Pre-drilling the holes only helps marginally.


Our wicking beds were designed to be the height of three sleepers.  We anchored the sleepers to each other using the backing plate.  This will be hidden once the beds are constructed.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

After I had built both ends, I fitted a hardwood brace or frame for the corrugated iron.  This brace was cut to the same length as the corrugated iron and will anchor the iron and provide an edge for the beds.  I had to take out a small corner in each end to allow the boards to sit level between the two end sections.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

I then cut the corrugated iron to fit.  You can use tin snips for this, but an angle grinder makes short work of it.  The cut edge is placed on the ground and is buried slightly, and the original edge is placed along the timber frame.  I used regular roofing screws to hold the iron against the frame.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

After I had fitted the corrugated iron, I placed a bracing piece in the centre of each sheet.  This provides an anchor for the sheets and helps prevent the beds from swelling or bulging once the beds are full of gravel and water.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

After I was happy that all was in its place, It was time to scrape back the dirt and smooth out the base of the beds.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

How to build a wicking garden bed.

The bulk of the construction is complete. Now to line and fill the beds

At this time the main construction of the beds is complete.  There is still a whole heap of work to go.

  • The beds need to be lined with old carpet underlay / cardboard to protect the builders plastic.
  • Then the beds need to be lined with builders plastic to make them watertight.
  • A filling tube needs to be inserted to allow the beds to be watered from ‘underneath’
  • Once the pipe-work is installed,the beds need to be filled with gravel to about 2/3rd depth
  • A drain or overflow pipe needs to be fitted at this mark
  • Shade cloth or weed mat is to be laid over the top of the gravel
  • Then soil and compost fills the remainder of the beds.

These steps will be covered in Part 2 of this series.

The beautiful thing with these garden beds is that you can build these with just about any material.  It takes a little imagination and work to bring your ideas to life.  If you have wicking beds, please feel free to share photos of them with me at and I will post them for others to see here.