Sunday, 13 July 2014

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

Let’s face it; it is really unpleasant excavating clay in the rain when it is only a couple of degrees above freezing, so I gave it a miss this week

On the other hand the wind died off so I was able to haul, cut and split the fallen tree into useful chunks of firewood. You have to wait until the wind dies down because otherwise chunks of tree fall down and may possibly hit you in the head.

Some of that new firewood is burning in the wood box at the moment and that heat is also being put to good use baking some banana muffins.  Not only are the dogs currently cooking themselves on the hearth, but the house smells of fresh banana muffins too. Thanks, fallen tree!

It was a bit of a slack tide this week however, the mixed flower, herb and vegetable garden received an extra 1m3 (35.3 cubic feet) of mulch and compost.

Over the past few years I’ve been trialling various plants so as to test their overall hardiness in these conditions in all seasons. Last summer was a real shocker with 10 days above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) and three of those were in a row with a peak of 44.5 degrees Celsius (112.1 F).

Now that I’ve started to get a feel for what plants are working here and what aren’t, I’ve increased the area of those test beds. Since last summer, there are now steps, access paths, taps for water, rock retaining walls and deep mulch.

It is a great system because those plants provide flowers for the insects, habitat for the frogs and reptiles, food for me, shade for the soil and shelter for the smaller birds which eat the predatory bugs off the main food crops. It is amazing how a small family of blue wrens can decimate the cabbage moth population. It is a complex system and gets more complex every year as the diversity of plants increases over time. Plus it just looks and smells nice.

I’ve had a few requests to talk about water systems at the farm here. Water is a complex topic Down Under, so I’ve thought about it and decided to talk about the subject by telling a story and then over the following weeks talk about what I do here to adapt to the extreme local conditions. It is an important story, because there is no back-up plan here and if I run out of water, there are just no easy options. It is the future for all that exist on water sourced from somewhere else, using energy also sourced from elsewhere.

Here goes:

Australia is an old land mass. The funny thing about old land is that they tend to contain gold on or under the surface in various spots. People like gold, heck I could seriously use a chunk or two of gold! So when it was discovered here in this corner of the planet in 1850, people came from all over the world to try their luck on the goldfields and hopefully get rich.

Melbourne became the second wealthiest city in the British Empire (after London) for quite a period of time until about the 1890’s and things were rocking along really nicely during that time. It was an amazing achievement given the colony was only founded in 1834. 

Whilst some people made heaps of mad cash on the goldfields (and some still do today) many more people soon exhausted their resources and had to return to their previous trades.

In a weird twist of fate, some of those impoverished gold miners came from Oregon in the US were they’d previously worked as timber getters. As they passed back to Melbourne from the goldfields, they saw a different form of gold in the Macedon Ranges and adjoining Wombat forest. The gold they saw there were trees. Big trees. Really, really big trees. It is no exaggeration to say that they would have been amongst the tallest trees on the planet. It would have been amazing to have seen the forests in those days.

So given it was close to a steam train line between the goldfields and Melbourne, those canny Oregon timber getters established timber mills and timber tramways through the forest here and named this side of the mountain range “Cherokee” after the Sioux Indian forests of the US with which they felt there were remarkable similarities.

The township was surveyed; a post office and even a primary school were built and occupied. The late Victorian era of the 1890’s even built health resorts high up in the clean mountain air to escape the summer heat and the very real fear of cholera and typhoid.

Yet the town was eventually abandoned.

By the aftermath of World War II, the history books state that for a decade or so there was only a single person up on this side of the mountain range. It is important to note that the area had been used to grow potatoes and berries for many decades prior to this.

The question should be asked in this circumstance is: why was the area abandoned?

There are many answers to this question, but the one that strikes me as being the most plausible is after many years of personal experience is: lack of water during summer.

Anecdotal evidence from the documented accounts of the early explorers and settlers also indicate that the Aboriginals only inhabited this area during seasons other than summer. 

The mountain range rises up out of an elevated plain so it is a watershed for the surrounding area. So where did all that rainfall go? The simple answer is that all of that rain didn’t disappear; it just went into the ground water only to turn up elsewhere down below.

Here is a photo of a beautiful creek which runs through my property. There are ferns, moss and broad leaf musk daisy bushes (nitrogen fixing under story trees), even a rock water fall. But, no water. This creek is actually is quite close to my house:

A lot of people in the US have wells (we call them water bores) to access drinking water. In Australia, these are a problematic system because they have to be drilled very deeply and they are often brackish (i.e. they contain some salt). These two issues alone mean that they are not a popular option because it requires a huge amount of energy to pump the water up from the depths and possibly to also desalinate that water (i.e. remove the salt).

A neighbour has a water bore (water well) and he told me that during the drought of 2009, the system was only able to provide water for 7 minutes before running dry. This means that in a boom and bust environment like Australia, the water table can vary greatly in height below the ground.

The trees up this way have adapted to those conditions by growing a massive tap root. They don’t have a problem as they rise high above the under story canopy and grow tall and dead straight. They would appear to have access to lots of water all year around.
At a lower elevation in the mountain range on a less steep site, the water runs for most of the year above ground. So this tells me that land at higher elevation acts like a sponge, yet land at lower elevation which is also flatter, tends to leak water across the landscape.

It also means that the trees in this lower, flatter area of the mountain range also don’t need the tap roots required to access water all year round. The reason for this is that there is plenty of water close to the surface, so their root systems can spread outwards rather than downwards. You’d also expect that those trees would be wider and shorter. 

There is one disadvantage for those trees which don’t have a massive tap root. They tend to fall over in high winds (roots and all).

So now, you know these things you can start to look at the vegetation differently in your area and let nature tell you the story about ground water in that location. At the very least it will hopefully save you a lot of digging!
Next week, I’ll start to discuss how water is collected at the farm.

I’ll leave the story of my friends the magpies and wombats to another week, but will leave you with a photo of the entrance to a wombat home on the farm.

July is generally colder than June and right now outside at 9pm it is 5.1 degrees Celsius (41.2 F) and the rainfall for the year has been 474.6mm (18.7 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 440.8mm (17.4 inches).


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Very interesting. Some American oak species respond to conditions in this way--deeper tap roots on the prairies, more fibrous roots in bottomlands.

So the water you have to drink and use in summer has been saved from the winter?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Fascinating blog post this week. I didn't know that about the Oregon loggers, moving onto gold hunting and logging in Australia.

For those hazy on geography, Oregon and Washington form a neat little set States way up in the Northwest corner of the U.S.. I live in W. Washington. As far as water goes, the western, maritime region is very wet and the eastern part of the States is very dry. Settlers used to refer to it as "Over on the wet side" or "Over on the dry side." Politically, they are very different. Eastern Oregon and Washington tend to be very conservative. Less population, so they're always complaining about being ruled by the liberal West. It would have made more sense to divide the States east and west, instead of north and south. But, hindsight is 20/20. Someday, it may happen.

Western Oregon, Washington, a chunk of Northern California and a chunk of British Columbia form a bio-region sometimes called Cascadia. Which spell check doesn't recognize, which is kind of silly.

On the chicken front, a miracle! The crop bound Barnevelder hen who was the only survivor of the coyote attack produced an egg, yesterday! The first in well over 6 months. Also on the chicken front the last couple of days when I have let my 8 little Wyondotte chicks out, they run around in circles like their crazy, flying about a bit and crashing into each other. They remind me of punk rockers in a mosh pit. My three old hens draw back in abject horror and disapproval. I can almost hear them cluck "Kids these days!" Lew

heather said...

Hi Chris-

Many thanks for the beginnings of your water story! It was very interesting to hear about the different growth habits of the trees at different elevations and water availabilities around you. I had never considered regarding the trees on our property as water indicators before. Except, of course, when I found a willow sprouting up in one of my perennial beds, and realized that I really must be watering it too much!

I continued to find more similarities between our parts of the world as I read your post today. We, too, have beastly hot summers (it was 105F in the shade today) and a history of gold mining. We beat you to the gold discovery by a bit, as our rush started in 1849. Auburn, the closest town, has a huge statue of a gold miner gracing its freeway access, as befits its claim to be "the gateway to gold country". (I don't know how to include a link, but if you Google "Auburn CA images", you can see the gent himself.)

We also have huge, tall trees sort of nearby, though ours, the redwoods, are closer to the coast, where they can drink up the fog with their needles. Speaking of trees and water availability, people around here in the hotter, drier part of the state have the bad habit of planting redwoods as landscape trees and then having to provide huge amounts of supplemental irrigation to keep them alive. I want to shake them. "Have you ever been to a redwood forest? Did you notice that it was, you know, all cool and foggy and next to the ocean?"

A note on your logging history- it was fascinating to read that miners/loggers who came from Oregon chose to name "their" forest after the Cherokee, a tribe that originated in basically the opposite corner of the US from Oregon. The Cherokee started out around Georgia, in the steamy south, and then were forcibly removed to Oklahoma, a mid-western state not particularly known for its forests. (My husband's family is from Oklahoma and has some Cherokee ancestry.) The Sioux, however, are quite a different tribe, from a distant area of the Great Plains (also not all that forested). Wondrous and strange, how culture and its names morph and change through time and space.

I will look forward to the other installments of your water story! I share your concern about not having water backups. We could have drinking water trucked in if need be (for a price! One of my neighbors does, because she was convinced that another neighbor was stealing water from her well and so had it capped- but of course that's a story in itself…), but if our irrigation allotment got cut, our irrigated defensible space around the house (a.k.a lawn, actually recommended by the fire departments around here, despite their water greed), the gardens and the orchard would all be, literally, toast.

Also looking forward to hearing about magpies and wombats. Sounds like a children's story!


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Adrian. Top point and great observation. The oak species probably take advantage of the same niche as the eucalyptus species here. Around this area there are many oak trees which were planted after the 1850's gold rush to celebrate one thing or another. They seem to be very long lived, shady and very drought hardy too. Elms are also largely disease free here too and there are some great old elm avenues of honour.

Haha! You already look at the vegetation as an indicator of the soils and local ecology. My understanding - and please correct me if I am wrong - is that the prairies have very loamy and well-drained soil. Not the sort that you'd want to till.

Yes and exactly correct. It was eerie reading Stars Reach because it pretty much described the ecology here. Albeit, I get a little bit of rainfall during the summer depending on the season and climate (you’ll see that as the months go by). I have experienced five months with no significant rainfall during that time. I'll write more about storing water next week. Thanks for the comment.

Hi Lewis. Yeah, it's weird how small the world can be. This was in the 1850's and the people would have arrived by sailing ship too. I understand that at the time all of the more out of the way sea ports offered cheaper landing rates for gold miners and sometimes people tramped on foot many hundreds of kilometres to avoid the higher landing charges.

Does the same west wet / east dry divide occur in Oregon too? I'd read that the eastern half is very dry which always surprised me.

Over here we have the Great Dividing Range which runs inland along the eastern coast from the bottom to the top of the continent. West of that range though the continent is dry and gets much drier the further west you go. The mountain range I'm in is part of all that but at the very bottom of the continent. North of the range here is dry and gets much drier the further north you go. Actually, the north western part of the state is a full blown desert.

You never know what the future holds politically.

I'd heard the Cascadia reference and wondered what it referred to. Thanks. For a bit of a laugh, our Prime Minister recently referred to Canada as Canadia!!!! Sounds like a disease. Apologies, I'm still chuckling to myself about that.

I assume that you have tall forests inland from the coast, which catch the moist air off the ocean?

Thanks for the chicken image! I'm just old enough to remember the punk rocker slam dancing days... Glad to hear that your Barnevelder hen has produced an egg too. She sounds like a hardy and resilient chicken. They're a good breed and I hope that you get many long years of service from her.

Yeah, the chick’s antics would be very amusing. I'm thinking about building the girls a chicken swing which they can jump onto and off again during the course of the day. They already have a climbing tower and they're always up and down it. It is amazing how often the bird life here mucks around. About a week ago, a sulphur crested cockatoo jumped onto the wind driven whirly bird for the worm farm and just sat and spun around and around with the wind. It was having a good time.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi heather. Yeah, I'm trying to get you to look at your local area and plants with new eyes.

Willows are great plants. We can all be guilty of over watering for sure - even here. Plants are actually pretty hardy and watering over summer here is a real cause to pause and have some thinking time for sure. PS: I plant willows in one of my swales and they really enjoy getting their feet wet.

The resemblance in photos was uncanny. Particularly, between the summer (yellow) and winter (green) photos. The rivers in your area are much bigger though.

You are absolutely correct in that there is no substitute for selecting appropriate species when planting! Thought that you might enjoy this link to a redwood forest which is about 60 miles south and west of my farm: Australian Californian Redwood Forest. This is a special place for me and also a very out of the way and not very visited place.

Plant swaps have been going on for a century or so between here and California.

Thanks for the correction. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the timber getters from Oregon told tall tales to the locals which were repeated as gospel down through the years. Really interesting stuff.

Yeah, wells are a contentious issue up this way too which is another good reason why I don't have one so I can commiserate with all and sundry with a straight face and then not worry about it all too much. I share your risk, so it is great to swap stories and maybe we can swap ideas too so as to possibly reduce the risk of damage from future fires. Lawns work, but so to do other less water intensive things too.

Thanks very much. The wildlife here is a true joy even when they are trashing the occasional plant or tree.

Cheers. Chris

LewisLucanBooks said...

Oh, yes, Eastern Oregon is very dry. Even dryer than Eastern Washington. True desert. We used to drive through there on family vacations. Lots of old lava flows. Looks like the moon.

The Columbia River is the dividing line between Oregon and Washington. When you drive east, there's a little river town (Othello? Something Shakespearean) and the road goes around an outcropping. On the other side, it's like flipping a light switch. Different vegetation and birds. Dryer. More rocky.

I'm surprised the spell check doesn't recognize Cascadia. There's also the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Runs off the coast from British Columbia to Northern California. It tears lose with super quakes every 3-500 years. The last one was 1701. We're talking 8.9+ that can last up to 5 minutes. So, any day now ... or, in 200 years ... :-) .

In books and speculative fiction about the regional breakup of the US, the resulting political unit is sometimes referred to as Cascadia.

But, now that I've wandered all over the place, away from the topic of water. I often worry about water. I get my water from a nearby Rec. Vehicle Park. Long story. With no pre announcement, it can be cut off. Has happened for a couple of hours, up to days. The worst was last year. 4 1/2 days. I muddled through on what I had stored and what was sitting around in very casual rain water catchment.

There is a way to switch over to the well the next farm over. Brother Bob the Bachelor Farmer's place. But, he passed away and no one knows where the switch point is, or how to do it!

Like you, I should put in some water storage. We get plenty of rain, in season, to fill up some tanks. Lots of shed roofs. But, I'm old and the place is a rental. I've just had a little financial windfall. I should at least put in a couple of 50 gallon rain barrels.

That cockatoo story is great! Not so many exotic birds around here. I feed the Hummingbirds. Very curious little birds. Occasionally, they will fly right up to my face to check me out. I can even talk to them for awhile.

I do have a good bird story. The other day, I'm out on the porch having my first cup'a. It's misty and cool. Lots of condensation on my truck windshield. I have a mettle roof. All of a sudden I hear what sounds like hail on the roof. Quit possible, though this is out of season. It keeps up. But I can't see any hail bouncing off my truck. Finally, I pull on my boots and go out in the yard where I can see my roof. The entire ridge line is lined with Starlings, busy pooping out cherry pits! That are rolling down the roof and creating all the clamor. A good laugh is a great way to start the day. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis. Thanks for the heads up on Cascadia. Super quakes! Yikes! Do they get tremors all of the time? I'd imagine it would be very active?

We get small quakes from time to time but they are focused on an area about 100 miles to the south and east of here and all you ever feel here are minor aftershocks. Wouldn't even crack the plaster. 8.9+ though, hope you are somewhere else at the time...

You mentioned the water situation last time. Do you pump the water to your house? 4 1/2 days without is not good. The 50 gallon drums sound like a good idea for drinking water. The water tanks here are vented to the air, but sealed with stainless steel fly wire mesh so the mosquitoes can't get into the tank and breed up an annoying population. You could modify something to fit over the openings on the drums and just leave it out in the rain over winter to collect the rain water? Go for food grade polyethylene if you can.

Thanks for the great bird story. They really do muck around a lot! Oh yeah, they will do anything for cherry fruit. Cheers.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Seems there's always a bit of low level activity on the Cascadia fault. There was quit a little swarm of quakes about 5 months ago in the southern section off the southern Oregon coast. Historically, sometimes sections of the fault let loose. Other times, the whole darn thing.

We've got all kinds of faults in this part of the world. Seems like there's always a new one being discovered. In 2001 we had a good shaker. Lots of damage further north. Olympia, Seattle. In Centralia, one building collapsed about 3 days later. Some window damage and brick crashing through ceilings. The thing about it was it lasted so darn long. Almost a minute. There was another one a few years later that rolled in from the coast. Smaller. Didn't last as long. Any-who. I tend to be pretty earthquake aware. That last one, the P Wave hit and I was up and almost out the door before the S Wave rolled through.

No, I don't pump water to my house. The water comes from a nearby private Recreational Vehicle / Camping park. Mostly gravity fed, I think. When the park was being built, my neighbor/friend/landlord was hired to work on it. It messed up his well. So, an agreement was made to just plumb us into their system. For one reason or another, the water gets cut, occasionally. That 4 1/2 day stint was because of a leak in the system that was hard to find.

The whole water system here (encompassing 4 households) is a 100 old system. It's been modified, added to, jerry rigged. My landlord is pretty hazy on all it's different components. But, thanks for the tips on rain barrels.

Yup, the birds do like the cherries! Unfortunately, they don't taste good. Sports from some long gone cherry tree, I suppose. Same problem with some of the apple and plum trees around here. But, plenty of really good fruits to harvest. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis. Nature makes her presence felt and occasionally wipes clean the slate. You've got earthquakes and we've got bushfires. Neither are good. Glad to hear that you know to run from the house. Why would they build brick houses in earthquake zones?

Thanks for the explanation. Leaks are notoriously hard to find especially if the pipes are buried. Above ground here the pipes have to be treated to cope with the suns intense UV rays (we have a hole in the ozone layer above the state all the way down to Antarctica) which tend to eventually make some plastics brittle and then they fail.

Some seedling cherries produce sour fruit. I've never tasted them, but the Europeans make a jam out of sour cherries (I think?). All apples have a use. If they're not for fresh eating, you should be able to either cook them or make cider with them. I grow 26 different varieties and they're all different. Wild plums can be an amazing fruit.

Hope you had a chance to check out the snow video from today. Poor chickens were huddled into their shed. The sun is shining strongly now, but they reckon that there is more snow to come this afternoon...

Cheers. Chris

Les said...

Hi Chris,
It's kinda kinky, the way you talk about the age of the Australian geology, but (assuming I have my history of Australian vulcanology straight) you live in one of the youngest bits of dirt on the continent/island.
Here in the NSW mid-north coat, we're in some of the oldest dirt around (Devonian, apparently, which predates the Carboniferous, a major attraction for us - no coal, gas, oil, CSG or any other such reason for nasty people to come and kick us off our farm to dig it up...).
Though we envy you your soil. Ours is depleted ridge gravel with almost no clay and bugger all plant available nutrients. And less than an inch of topsoil in most places.
Snow! hilarious... It was 21 degrees here today. Some winter...
We're starting to put up some stuff about what we're up to at The Edible Forest if'n you're interested, though it's a bit slow getting it going, due to being utterly shagged out after a day's work (only still up now due to utter failure to get the fire running well enough to get it banked up to run until morning. Sigh.)
Also a bit incoherent on re-reading. Blame the home made cider and whisky. Will try better next time.

Stacey Armstrong said...

Hi Chris,

I'm glad you are going to take some time to talk about the intricacies of your water system. I too am a native of Cascadia, but on the Canadian side of the border. Our summer months are getting warmer and drier here too; and as I expand the garden, water will become more of an issue. We have a well here that pumps into a cistern underneath the house. It is a system with a number of drawbacks. Beginning to store more of the winter rain is becoming more of a priority. We receive about 1100mm of rain a year on average and we have in no way maximized the capacity of all of the small roofs. I currently collect rainwater off a section of the house roof and my greenhouse roof. The gardening club here had a tour of four properties and their watering systems which was very helpful. One place had metal roofs on all their large cisterns not only for water collection but to also offer some sun protection to the plastic.

There are a number of local projects a foot here to encourage people to plant oaks and the plants that make up their eco-system. One of the local foresters I talked to thinks that the fir forests here will become more and more stressed as the weather becomes more extreme, she thought it likely that oaks would be happier in their place.

After we moved here I had the opportunity to read The Golden Spruce by John Valliant. It really filled gaps in my education about the history of logging in this part of the world. I would almost wager that I would not exist without the resource extraction here. My grandfather was a faller a little north of here before the advent of the chainsaw!

I enjoyed seeing all the pictures of your place. I always pause to see fruit still on your trees during your winter.


artinnature said...

Greetings Chris - Another Archdruid Report reader from Cascadia here, 25 kilometers north of Seattle. I've enjoyed your comments/reports over there for years.

I've been wondering, (and I completely understand if this topic shall remain private) since your location appears to be rather remote, what do you and your partner do for money, where do you do it and how often, and how far away is it? Again, no worries if this is off-limits, as you say...not trying to have a go at you, just interested to see how folks, and couples in particular are able to dive into Green Wizardry to such an extent as you and me, since we hear many reports that it can be a stress on relationships.

As for me, I'm lucky in that...thanks to our current health insurance wife can earn vastly more per hour as a therapist (psychology) than I can as a gardener/garden designer-consultant, so I have plenty of time to work on the home economy, food garden and other aspects of Green Wizardry. It doesn't hurt that she really enjoys eating all the fresh fruit & veg that I grow as well!

In April we bought a lot (small house included in the deal, you know where my priorities are...ha!) so we're starting a new garden, this is the tenth garden I've built for myself...I move around a bit. Feel free to ask about my gardening endeavors here if your interested.

Cheers from Cascadia,
Klark (artinnature)

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Les. Haha! You now know my secret. Yeah this part of the world has the third youngest volcanic plains on the planet. I can see dormant volcanoes (Mount Blackwood and Mount Bullengarook) out the window whilst sitting at my dining table. Apparently the last eruption occurred only a couple of thousand years ago and was witnessed by the Aborigines. It makes for lots of minerals in the soil, but little in the way of organic matter.

Yeah, I have heard that it has been warm up your way this year. The old timers used to say that warm years are wet years. So maybe summer has something special for both you (wet) and I (dry)? Dunno. I’ve planted very few fruit trees this year and am currently in the process of adding another pump and 11,000 litres water storage though. Excavations have been abandoned though due to the weather though.

Thanks for the link. Nice work and a great magazine to get into.

I met Darren when he brought out Joel Salatin to Taranaki Farm in Woodend about a year or two ago. Their roast chicken was good, really good.

The article was a very good write up too. I enjoy lemon thyme here as well. At this time of year, chunks of the plant with their root systems rip out from the main plant and I simply plant it all about the place. Thyme has been much slower growing though.

It is really great to read about your place too. I’d be very interested to read about how the open days went. I open up the farm here about twice a year, but I get pumped with questions for hours so it is a bit draining as you have to be really switched on.

Regards. Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Stacey. No worries and please ask questions! Yes, I've noticed the tendency to install wells in North America. They are probably cheaper than above ground storage which works out at about AU$0.15/litre here just for the storage tanks. The pumps and high pressure pipes are fairly affordable though and have a very long life. The small pump delivers 19l/min and the big house pump delivers 32l/min and can run up to 3 taps at once.

Here, the energy costs required to pump water up from the depths of a very deep well are prohibitive, plus the water may be brackish (i.e. salty), so people store water above ground.

In North America, I suspect that the water table is a whole lot closer to the surface. Still hotter, drier summers will lower the water table in your area too as happens here.

1,100mm of annual rainfall is very respectable and would be a wet year here. Just for your interest: For every 1 square metre of roof catchment, you will be able to collect 1 litre of water. So on a 1 square metre roof, 1,100mm of rainfall converts to the ability to collect 1,100 litres of rain water over a year. I have over 340 square metres of roof collection area...

The gardening tour sounds like time well spent. I look at how people around here do things too and always ask lots of questions. Usually the old timers are the ones that have the simplest and most effective systems, but not always. Also not all plastics are UV stable, the plastic water tanks here are guaranteed by the manufacturer to last well beyond 25 years (and I have a plan for them after that point) in the full sun which is pretty extreme over summer.

Yes, the oaks are a good choice. Actually, they are a very good choice. I travelled through the areas burnt by the last major bushfire to have a good look at the vegetation to see what worked and what didn't and oaks are a clear winner. They are slow to get started here, but are very hardy once established.

Heating and building fuel is not a concept lost on me either and just as important here. Very astute.

10 out of 10 for that observation. Fruit is available here all year around. As your climate warms, I'd suggest the more cold hardy citrus and even avocadoes. I know of someone who can grow avocadoes in temperatures down to -9C and summers with many months above 40C. You just never know.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi artinnature. Welcome and it is a pleasure to have you here.

Ah, the farm is actually close (about 10 minutes’ drive) to a station on the Melbourne to Bendigo rail line so the main city of Melbourne is just under an hour away via fast train. I use the trains all of the time and they are very good.

I and my partner work about 2 or 3 days per week in various small businesses in Melbourne. Other than that we both have "fun days", "admin days" and a few "work on the farm" days. You have to keep one foot in the monetary economy and another in I'm not sure what it is! We have goal congruence, but don't always agree on the best way to go about doing things here.

If you are interested, after the blogs about water, I could tell you a little bit about how we ended up at this unusual destination? Not to stress, because it is a bit unusual and something a bit different, people are always asking me anyway.

Yeah, the home grown food is a good angle. Respect. It is just better. A home grown strawberry will always put a smile on someone’s face. One of my partners friends visited last summer and helped picked strawberries, except that it ended up being: one for me; one for me; one for me (you get the picture).

Klark, I am interested. After 10 (hopefully productive) gardens, you would have it down to a fine art by now, with a trail of disasters thrown in for good measure. Just out of interest, how do you start? For your information, I always start with the soil first and bring in organic matter, but that may be a Down Under thing.

Regards. Chris

heather said...

I had a thought about using rainwater collection vs. wells (or city water) during a drought. Despite our very dry recent winters (when we normally get all our rain for the year), local officials are having a hard time getting people to reduce their water usage to match the 30% reduction goal. They just seem unwilling or unable to change their behavior. I imagine part of the trouble to be that when you turn on the tap, the water is just there- it comes from "away" and there always seems to be more, despite what officials say and despite the news footage of the drained-out reservoirs. The water never actually stops coming, so why should they care? But if individual houses had their own catchment systems, it would be much easier to _see_ the yearly flow of water, the in and the out. "There you are, there's your allotment for the year. Still going to take that half hour shower?" I'm afraid more than a few of us who are on wells will soon become painfully aware of that dropping water table. Our well right now is 250 ft deep and only brings up 5 gallons per minute. The first one we dug was 150 feet deep and only brought 2 rpm. It's all about the luck of hitting the right crack in the granite here, which is all the more frightening because you also don't know when your particular crack might dry up. So cisterns are on the research list for sure!

Chris, I wish I knew how your friend pulls off the avocado trick! I have tried growing them here (stubbornly, since the Mexican guys around here just shook their heads when they saw me planting them, telling me that they were a tropical plant and didn't like our heat or our cold). Well, they hung on through the first winter with some babying, but a long cold snap the second year did them in, despite my wraps and Christmas lights to keep them warm. Maybe I need a different, hardier variety? (Hope springs eternal. And stubbornness.)

heather said...

Oh, I didn't mean my geography notes as a correction- I am totally fascinated by how place names come about, leaving records of the origins, travels, and imaginings of the people who came through. I think it's entirely plausible that one of the Oregon timber getters had some Cherokee connection. If I'm not mistaken, the white population hadn't been in Oregon all that long in the 1850's before those loggers would have migrated to your part of the world in search of gold. Why shouldn't someone who would have hopped on a ship for Australia in search of adventure and fortune have already crossed the U.S. from corner to corner? Even then, when the world was "larger", I think some people would have just been the wandering types. And I bet they did carry some good stories with them.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hi Chris, re prairies--it depends on the prairie: many are well drained, but there is much surface water (in many places handled by drain tiles), especially in spring. In summer there can be long, hot periods with no rain; then plants much reach deep with their roots. I speak for the tallgrass prairie/oak savanna/woodland mosaic I know, not for the vast plains to the west of Illinois. Less water out there, native plants even more adapted to temperature and weather extremes.

Wouldn't want to til up an Illinois prairie, but it's also some of the most fertile soil in the world--the inheritance of the glaciers and all those long prairie roots dying and regenerating over centuries.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Heather. The state government here bombards people with massive advertising campaigns about using less water. There are signs up everywhere too. Plus, they only allow odd numbered houses to water one day and even numbered houses the next. Even then it is only during certain early times of the morning and late afternoon. They rely on the public to watch each other and dob in people who are breaking the rules. Those rule breakers get fined. Green grass is like waving a red flag at a bull and you just don't see it. Herb gardens are a great idea in those conditions.

They can also restrict supply to your household. It is pretty serious and the last major drought, the cities reserves were in the high 20% range. They ended up building a desalination plant at huge expense to supplement supplies as there is nowhere else to put a major dam. Talk about upper limits to growth being reached.

I understand that the bottom 12% to 13% of water supply dams are stagnant and require much treatment before it would be fit to use for drinking water.

Exactly, if people were responsible for the amount of water they had available to use, they would find that it would pay to be very careful with that resource. I'll show you the level indicator that I use to monitor how much water is in the tanks on a future blog. You are 100% correct!

That is quite a deep well and it is a bit scary how much the water table has fallen over what I assume is a short period of time. It does fluctuate too naturally, but perhaps not as much as that.

The trick with avocadoes is to keep them out of the cold winds. It is the cold wind that kills them off, rather than the temperature. The snow fall killed off the coffee plant here, but I haven't given up yet.

I've seen avocadoes wrapped in hessian - around and over here during winter and they seem to be OK.

Regards. Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi heather. No stress, that is what I thought you meant. Back then, I think plenty of people didn't let the truth stand in the way of a good story! hehe! The world would have been larger then - as it will be in the future too with the way things are going. Cheers

artinnature said...

Chris, I see you did your research before settling on Fernglade Farm. We have a train station less than 1.5 km from our house but our trains are not good...actually not good at all. The rail line along Puget Sound is buried by frequent landslides during the rainy season (winter, like you) which cause big delays, but I hear from regular riders that there are lots of other unexplained delays as well. And I swear it never goes over 65 kph (40 mph).

Fun story: In April 2013 we took the train to Vancouver BC. While we were there a freight train was knocked off the rails by a landslide. The train didn't hit the slide, the slide hit the train! (there is a dramatic video on YouTube) We were only able to take the train part way back, then they put us on a bus.

I would like to hear the story of how you two ended up where you are, thanks.

Yes soil is definitely the place to start. Considering your situation it may be hard for you to believe, but some parts of the planet are blessed (by geologic circumstances) with incredibly rich and perfectly moistened soil, and I've built gardens in a few of those over the years. Others, like this one will be more challenging.

Fun story: I scraped up every bit of compost from the bin at the last garden and brought it here, also potted many plants that I wanted to bring to the new garden using same compost. So now I'm up to my ears in volunteer Tomatoes, Calendula, Parsley, Oregano, Cilantro (aka Coriander)! Compost is just plain solid gold for a number of reasons.

Water is a real challenge here unlike many of my gardens back east (USA). It simply does not rain here in summer. We partly remedied that this time around by buying an extremely low & wet lot that actually stays too moist from natural seepage all year, there is also a small stream that I suppose I could suck water out of if things got really bad. But the entire lot is so low & wet that we're raising the grade quite a bit so it's not a quagmire again come winter. Most edibles will be grown in raised beds or I fear they would mostly rot.

Actually the first thing I've always had to do is kill the lawn. If I'm in a house (garden) for four years the lawn will be completely eliminated. We set a record this time around by smothering the lawn in about one month by bringing in over 120 cubic yards of fill from builders and an equal amount of tree-mulch from arborists, all free. So what we have now is rich black silty soil down at the level of the winter water table with a lot of sandy rocky fill above that. I've hung out a welcome sign for all the neighborhood moles -natures rototillers- to begin mixing the two. So funny to stand and listen to the pure rage & hatred my neighbors have for moles, while I couldn't have enough of the little buggers!

By the way, I just bought an ornamental tree the other day, (after all I'm a landscape designer in addition to an aspiring Green Wizard!) a Drimys lanceolata (you may call it Tasmannia lanceolata), they are lovely and do well here...familiar?

Cheers from Cascadia

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Adrian. Spot on! What is a drain tile?

The original native grasslands here act exactly the same way and many of those species that survived the onslaught of the sheep from the 1840's onwards have very long root systems and stay green during even the hottest summers. A good imported equivalent is Lucerne which can sometimes have root systems up to 22m deep. Some of the native herbs even produce flowers during February when most introduced plants tend to shut down. Most soils here have a great deal of difficulty with exposure to the sun, so tilling is a real problem. In fact during droughts you'll often get dust storms which can turn day into dusk in Melbourne and lots of top soil is lost to the sea during those times. Here, I chop, mulch and drop the plant material onto the surface and leave the roots to bind the soil. Sheep were a particular drama here because they eat the plants, roots and all. The native animals tend to browse - more like a deer, I guess?

Glaciation tends to grind larger rocks up into fine particles which become available for plants, so you are very lucky with your soils. Very lucky indeed! Australia is undulating but mostly flat-ish so there were very few if any glaciers during the last Ice Age. I envy you your large mountain ranges. Mt Kosciusko which is the highest point on the continent is a leisurely – albeit uphill walk!

Ah yes of course, the decaying root systems also provide food for the soil life. Nice reminder. Another good reason not to till the soil.

Regards. Chris

dltrammel said...

Looking forward to your talking about the water system there.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi artinnature. hehe! Yeah, I did research, but not of the useful variety. Once I'd setup the basics of the farm up here at this location, I had a really good idea about how to do go about selecting a good location for a farm. I read books and spoke to people beforehand, but not much actually prepared me for the realities of this adventure. Honestly there is more randomness to the choice than I care to admit.

The trains here travel at 130km/h (80m/h), unless it is above 30 degrees Celsius (86F) whereby they are slowed to 80km/h (50 m/h) due to thermal expansion of the tracks. The trains are very good and I can get to the city in under an hour for about AU$6.50 (one way).

Oh no! Even trains can't deal with landslides... Not good. The bushfire last year burnt some of the old rail red gum sleepers which closed the line for a few weeks, so the government has been slowly replacing the entire line with concrete sleepers at night when there are no passengers or freight. But landslides are something else altogether... That is taking it to 11.

No worries, once the posts about water have finished, I'll do a: how did we get here? post. It has been an interesting journey... My lady suggested that I should have started the blog with that post.

Yeah, I've never had the pleasure of existing fertile soil, so have had to always make do. Fertile soil is a rare thing Down Under and mostly found now in swamps, which they promptly drain, ruin the hydrology and strip mine that fertility by planting heavy feeders like asparagus etc.

Yes, your compost would have included all sorts of bacterial, fungal and other goodies too. It was a smart move relocating it.

Yes, raised beds are the answer in your conditions. What sort of trees grow in those boggy conditions. Rainforest trees tend to grow well in swamps Down Under. You are at an advantage over summer, but at a disadvantage over winter. I assume that you are in a valley of some sort? Is this a frost collector too?

Ah, an excellent idea! 120 cubic yards is about 92 cubic metres. Your mix between carbon and nitrogen would have been quite good too. I've brought in about 450 cubic metres (588 cubic yards) of green wastes here in the form of mulches and composts - over about 8 years though. There was just no organic matter in the soil, it was all clay. An excellent use of fossil fuels.

It is very clever to utilise the services of nature to improve your soil. Well done. I would welcome moles here too. Most animals work to improve soil fertility here, so I wouldn't expect that it would be much different over in the US.

Now you have just gone and made my day! Mountain pepper is a local bushfood which I grow here. I grab local seedlings from the forest here. Keep it both in the shade and moist as it dislikes the full sun and hot summers. How good are the leaves with cooking, but the berries are something else all-together. They're hot. A great Aussie plant, well done!

Hi dltrammel. Thanks for the comment and we'll continue with the journey tomorrow! Cheers. Chris

artinnature said...

Hi Chris, been busy gardening for money...watering a lot for one of my clients who is out of town, pruning, weeding...also just had another 18 cubic yards of arborist mulch delivered, been spreading that.

We're actually getting rain today...praise Gaia! We haven't been here long so no rain storage infrastructure yet but I plan to get into that in a big way.

I wanted to answer your questions. This is a city lot so not much native vegetation. When we bought the place there were three European birch, a Douglas Fir (native) a Western Hemlock (native) that we turned into firewood, two non-native weeping willows that someone had planted along the stream, a flowering cherry (no fruit), Hydrangeas, Lilacs, Barberries, Snow-berry (native) and a Camellia. I wouldn't think the cherry could survive in the saturated soil but the crown is perched up on a little mound. Someone must have intentionally planted it that way to keep the roots from suffocating and it did the trick because its a huge tree now.

Other native trees typical for this soil type would be Red Alder, various native Willows, Shore Pine, Black Cottonwood, Cascara.

We aren't in a valley, just a sloped city block with our lot as the low point, but continuing north & west the land continues to slope down to the sea...we're at 185 ft (56 meters) above sea level.

I've been wondering about cold air collecting on the uphill (south/sun/warm) side of our house, we shall see come winter. It did happen at our last garden just six blocks away.

We were lucky enough to be asked to chicken-sit for our neighbors over the week end! Fun but a little stressful, the old hen wanted to get at the young pullets and not in a good way, so we had to keep them separated. We got three eggs and will be getting more and some of their own honey as barter-payment. This neighborhood has a lot of Urban Homesteader types.

Cheers from Cascadia

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Klark. Good to hear that you are making hay whilst the sun shines!

It is good to be thinking about water infrastructure. Are you thinking about any water storage or collection in the ground?

That's cool. I don't really buy into the whole native / non-native vegetation argument thing, so am happy to see lots of plant diversity all about the place. Well, you need firewood too! It is great that you have a stream at your place. Does it run all year? Cherries are very hardy and fast growing trees. I have both the flowering and fruiting varieties. Fresh cherries are an awesome fruit.

Just for your interest, pears like wet feet.

Ahh. Being at a low point, your property obviously collects water. Good for you. Keep adding wood chips - especially if you can get them for free.

Yeah, it is really hard to tell where the cold air collects. All I know from here is that it flows downhill. The other morning here it was 5 degrees Celsius, yet in the valley below it was -1 degrees Celsius and the whole area in that valley looked as though it was a sepia toned photograph. A pretty heavy frost. Observation of your site will tell you over time, but you know that from experience anyway.

I read years ago a quote: "Don't try to force democracy in a chicken coup". Still, occasionally the older birds can be pretty aggressive. I had an aggressive rooster once and he was a pain and killed a few of the smaller chickens. Tell you what, the life of a chicken can be brutal. The girls here recently ganged up and killed a bird with a bent tail. I kind of felt sorry for her as they kept her out of the food first to weaken her.

Are you going to get some chickens at your place?

Glad to hear that you are in good company in your area.

Cheers. Chris

artinnature said...

Chris - I'm digging a pond and using the wonderful soil in raised beds. I will be trying the kitty litter/bentonite clay method. My neighbor has a pond with litter but I haven't talked to her lately and don't know how its working. I will for sure be collecting all water off all roof surfaces initially using rain will be the tough one to figure out. I have fantasies of directing overflow from the barrels into the pond, which is uphill. Or perhaps a large tank (also uphill) with a solar pump pushing water up to the tank when the sun shines (no battery) using gravity when watering. I'll continue thinking about how to incorporate a swale out of the pond, not sure how that would work with my current garden design. The stream does run all year but the flow is very little now in mid-summer. I've planted many wetland types there: Primula, Lingonberry, Mint, Acorus, Iris, many ferns.

The garden in front (north) of the house will be all fruit trees (with many espaliered) so they don't cause shade for all the edibles in back...we are sunshine-challenged here in Cascadia...but not this summer, wow has it been sunny!

We definitely plan on chickens, and since slugs are such a huge problem here perhaps ducks as well since they eat slugs. The neighbor with the pond has a dozen hens a two pairs of Acona ducks.

The garden calls!
Cheers - Klark

eldriwolf said...

Hi! New at your blog, a resident of Southern Cascadia( the bay area)--currently not homesteading, though I spent 15 years off the grid a little further north, in Mendocino.

Your climate seems a lot like what we get here;hot and dry, or Wet.

Catchment Works. I know folks who built sheds, *Just* so they would have roof catchment, so they could enlarge the garden. (I stopped by for a visit, and asked what the shed was for, they 'did not know yet' except that they 'needed the water', 'probably more firewood'..)

we have groves of eucalyptus here,(usually only one or two kinds in a grove) many of them mature, over 100 years...