Bredbo Valley View farm - providing quality education in Permaculture and sustainable living practices.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Going Slowly

Keeping moisture in the soil may not seem a real challenge if you live somewhere like Central Queensland, Kent or Maine. You may never have to experience the depth of Drought that we have just emerged from here in the South East of NSW. But it sends a clear message – use this time to prepare for the next one, because the next one will probably be worse.

The other day I talked about change and this preparation is all part of that. The solution we have arrived at is a blend of NSF, Permaculture, organics and biodynamic and, of course, our own experiences. The solution we are moving towards involves constructing a number of swales across the length of the farm paddocks, the swales are lined with deciduous trees on the up hill slope and fruiting trees, shrubs and bushes on the down hill slope. Between these swales we will run our pigs on a linear rotation with smaller paddocks for winter and larger paddocks for summer. This will also involve portable water and pig arks to complete the system.
The idea is that the pigs will live amongst avenues of trees providing both shade and a food forest for ourselves and the pigs. The deciduous trees and pigs provide the nutrients for the fruit trees and the swales transfer the water and nutrients back into the soil. The trees also provide the shade and protection from wind which decreases the amount of surface evaporation.
This is very close to the Dehesa Farm (thanks Emily) style from the Iberian (Spanish) Peninsula where the famous Spanish Bellota Hams are produced – start to see the idea. Unfortunately we’ll probably never get to the point where our pigs can roam between the trees – but the kids should. The Spanish use acorn trees, which we will also use, as well as, Hazel nuts, apples, pairs and persimmons. In thirty years we’ll have the most beautiful autumns you could imagine.
This, unfortunately, isn’t going to happen over night and it means a lot of planning, fence moving, tree planting and water pipe installed. Not to mention the earth works!
Thanks to Russell for his link to Sugar Mountain Farm as well, I read their Blog often and have watched some youtube videos they’ve done. I didn’t realise they ran their pigs in the woods however; again a little slow on the up take!
The Cook went off to listen to Joel Salatin from PolyFace Farms speak about his farming system, I had seen his DVD, read some of his book and seen a farm using some of his methods - so I stayed home and help feed the pigs. She was impressed with the apprenticeship and intern programs that farms like his run in the US, another farm I’ve read about called Nature’s Harmony Farm has a similar program. The folks at NHF, Tim and Liz, have a podcast which is really good and worth listening to as well.

We have totally underestimated the demand for our – now famous Bredbo Valley View Farm Christmas Hams. The Cook and I have been inundated with requests for more hams this year. Unfortunately our problems getting a butcher mean we couldn’t do hams this year. I’m trying to organise the means to get a pig or two processed so I can do my own – but it’s becoming a race against the clock.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Most people wouldn’t have given it any consideration, it never crossed my mind until recently – but now it’s going to change the whole face of the farm.
Back in April I talked about change and renewal, about how we were reassessing what we do, why and how. We looked at moving the farm to somewhere with more rain, Tasmania looked nice, but for various reasons that didn’t work so we decided to stay put. So that change didn’t happen – sorry Dad, I’m not going into politics.
So, to continue in regard to change. We attended a talk at the Natural Sequence Farming AGM; it was about farm planning, trees, permaculture and general farm philosophy. We had always intended to raise our pigs as naturally as possible and we thought that meant free range, but included pens, straw, shelters, wire and gates. But then somebody, out of the blue, made a statement “you know pigs are forest animals?”
I didn’t know what to say, I’d never even really thought about it. But it made sense. And put it all together with planning, trees, permaculture and animal welfare and it made perfect sense. We’d even seen it, talked about it – but never put it all together.
As an example, the pigs in the front paddock. They have trees, and they love nothing more then laying in the shade on a summer’s day, both the Cook and I have talked about it but never really connected the dots. Additionally we’d also had a sow escape and have a litter in the bottom of the paddock a while ago as well, we didn’t notice until a few days after they were born that the pig was missing. But the piglets were the healthiest and hardiest we have ever had. They had no shed, no shelter just long grass, shrubs and trees. They survived frost, rain and possibly foxes huddled together in the nest mum built in the low shrubbery.
We now let mother pigs out into the paddock to farrow, there are only mothers and piglets in the paddock and we try for one sow at a time. And it’s working, better then we ever expected. The other night, Harrison accidentally locked a mother pig up; separating her form her litter. The next morning I went looking for the piglets expecting the worse – but there they were, camped under a bush totally hidden right were she had left them. Mother and piglets were reunited after feed time and every thing was fine.
Climate is the other consideration; it has become obvious that the rain in our area now falls in pulses. We get large amounts over small periods with large drying gaps between events. We need to condition our farm to deal with this and thrive, instead of standing back and praying it will rain before everything dies. Fortunately, it appears there is a relatively simple solution to all of this and the results will speak for themselves.
I’ll talk about our plan in my next post – til then.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Attack chook

Monday night I went to pick up the Bees from Monika. It took a while for all the Bees to come home to their box – but by 8pm I had them on the back of the truck and heading home. Monika help load them – I don’t think she was 100% sure about what we were doing (don’t tell her – neither was I). I unloaded them as soon as I got home and hopefully they awoke to a nice Valley View sunrise this morning. Surprisingly there was no rain this morning, its forecast for later today, and then warm and fine for the rest of the afternoon.

I had to get myself a new hoe handle, broke two on the weekend chipping weeds; weeds in these parts can be pretty tough. But it was probably the rocks that broke the hoe, weeds just hide them – it’s a conspiracy.
Of course I didn’t get home until late Monday and the pigs were very pleased to see me roll the feeds out at 9:30pm, well after dark. I managed to get everybody penned, fed and looked after, including myself by 11:30pm ready for a 4:45am rise to collect the bread in the morning.
And the $23 chicken the cook bought – just superb, we haven’t had a chicken that good for a long while. And with Harrison at school camp there was even some left over for lunches.
Tuesday night I came home to find the house driveway had subsided into the gas pipeline. Unfortunately the previous leaser of the TSR had ploughed across the drainage channels we had put in and helped cause the problems. I didn’t see the holes at first and had dragged the trailer load of bread across it before I realised what was happening.
More mushrooms coming up in the garden – but I’m not the only one eating them now, looks like the Possums are helping them selves to some as well.
I walked in the house last night and The Cook was limping around the kitchen, I asked her what was wrong and got;

“Bloody rooster! It attacked my foot today” to which I replied,

“Okay, the rooster is only so big how did it hurt you that bad?”

“It spurred me in the foot – it went right through my gum boot!”

- at this point I'm thinking it isn’t going well for the rooster, her foot had swollen up like a foot ball and was turning a nice shade of blue. I was starting to think that Coq au Vont was for dinner.
It didn’t help when I said “great now I have something for the blog”.  The rooster survived, I'm borderline.
In the next couple of weeks we’ve got pigs going off for processing. Unfortunately we couldn’t get any hams done this year, we couldn’t find a butcher. Maybe we’ll have some during the year instead. I’m starting to think I might make my own for this Christmas.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wet, wet, wet.

The rain keeps falling, so far this month Valley View has had 95mm of rain in the gauge. We are luckier then some, Cooma has only recorded 40mm and others only a couple of kilometres down the road had less.

It’s all about weeds at the moment, whilst it’s to wet to spray in the paddocks; I’ve been chipping out weeds around the house yards. My hands feel like balloons on the end of broom sticks, and I can barely close one because my fingers are swollen, guess I’ll just have to harden up a bit more.

I was driving home on Friday afternoon, as usual listening to the ABC when I heard a familiar voice. Great interview Mrs D, Great topic – compost, and you came across as very professional and elegant – well done!
We had some friends come out for a visit on Saturday afternoon, Little Pig was on her best behaviour and took all the belly rubs on offer, at one point even Floppsie got in on the act.

On Sunday I managed to fit in an NSF Field Day out at Braidwood, Peter Andrews was there and the rain managed to hold off until the end. The Farm we visited was very impressive and the difference between the NSF property and his neighbours was telling. It would have been interesting to see the contrast during the worst of the drought. The owner had placed compost heaps containing dead animals, road kill, plant waste, discarded soil form dam bottoms, rock dust and other biowaste around his farm on the top of slopes, you could see the nutrient plumes flowing down the slope by the way the vegetation changed.

Sadly on Sunday we also lost one of our longest living farm critters, poor old Licorice the Guinea Pig died after seven years of squeaking, we noticed something was up the day before when he stopped squeaking for his food, so we sat him out on the lawn in the sunshine for the morning and he was gone by that afternoon - the Cook is going to put him under a rose bush today. I think he had a good life.

Have you ever really considered the real cost of food?? The Cook went off to the farmers market, she met a friend on the way in who told her she needed to try a chicken from a certain stall holder, she then ran into a stall holder we know and he told her the same – farmers market version of viral advertising! Anyway, off she trots to buy one of these great chickens. To look at the chicken you can see it’s something special, firstly it’s large, larger then normal store bought chickens. It’s got a healthy looking skin, sounds strange, I know – but it looked good. It was packaged in a simple plastic bag with a label. The chickens are pasture raised, down the coast some where; I’m not sure if they are grain fed as well.

The price for this treat, $23. Was it worth it?? We’ll see tonight, the Cook is doing her magic on it, can’t wait to try it – I’ll let you know how it goes. And what do I think about a $23 chicken?? If it’s more nutritious, tastes better, is grown better then $23 is the price we’ll pay. But first I have another hive to pick up, I left a box with Monika so she could paint it, and low and behold before she could do anything a swarm set up house in it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Drought is over - for now.

Snakes are about again – my favourite time of the year! Shadow nearly got bitten on Sunday, she put herself between a big brown snake and a bunch of boys staying for a sleep over. I was standing about twenty feet away chipping weeds and didn’t see a thing until it was all over.

It’s also that time of year again for AGM’s. we had the Bredbo Landcare Meeting a couple of weekends ago, a very informative talk from Martin Royds, a local farmer who won the carbon farmer of the year award a couple of years ago and is up for a farming diversity award this year. He talked about the importance of soil condition on the nutrient value of food and how he uses native species to drought proof his property.
We had the Natural Sequence Farming AGM the other night also, we had a presentation from Matt Kilby from Global Land Repair, he talked about different processes, the cross over of NSF, permaculture, soil biology and the relationship between trees, grass, fungi and bacteria.
I had a birthday, but I’ve still failed to grow up any, it passed quietly and the less said the better. I’ve sold a few pigs, some as pets – Scruffy has gone to a new home to be cared for by a family and she took a young fellow with her as company and ten other girls have gone out to new homes as well.

The Cooks garden is looking a treat and the strawberries are plentiful. Young Ben browses the bushes on his way in from the school bus. There are hundreds of young berries all over the patch; we haven’t had a crop like this since we arrived on the farm.
And the rain, last night alone we had 50mm, the road to the house was a river, dams on the TSR overflowed, our dams are all over flowing and luckily I pumped on Saturday because the river is up and brown once again.
Our total for the month is above 80mm, which isn’t bad when the monthly long term average is 65mm. It’s bringing on the grass and the weeds, so early December is going to be pretty busy for us.
With the rain we have had a bumper crop of mushrooms all over the farm. The Cook carried a monster lot up from the garden the other day and decided we would have them for dinner. She cooked them up; they smelt great, made some toast and scrambled eggs to go with them. I love mushrooms; I dished my self up a nice plate full and grabbed a couple of pieces of toast. I had started to eat them when I noticed she was only having eggs, I asked her why? She said “I’m not 100% sure they are safe to eat, so I’ll se if you survive and then I’ll try some” - I survived, the mushrooms tasted great, she’s eaten them since now she’s satisfied they are okay. At least now I know I am useful!
I’ve nearly finished the pig yards and just have to fill the loading ramp yard with dirt. We gave them a test run the other day without the dirt and it went pretty well. We got all the pigs we wanted onto the trailer with a lot less fuss and bother – I didn’t even swear which made the Cook very happy.
We are going out to have a look at a farm near Braidwood later in the week, on the farm they are using a lot of the NSF principles, native grasses, increased soil fertility and strict rotational grazing regimes to great effect.