Happy New Year and a photo update.

A massive thank-you and best wishes for the new year to family, friends and customers, who have continued to support us through 2013!

It has been a while since my last post, not due to laziness I promise! The last part of this year has been as hectic as ever and unfortunately, blog entries have suffered. Now with renewed enthusiasm and recharged batteries, 2014 will be blogged to death ­čÖé

Here are some update photos and highlights for the latter part of 2013:

The sunsets in Darwin were amazing! Part of the travelling road show of Sharon McDonough, Rohan Bryan and myself presenting on Sustainability in schools at an ACASA conference.

The sunsets in Darwin were amazing! Part of the travelling road show of Sharon McDonough, Rohan Bryan and myself presenting on Sustainability in schools at an ACASA conference.

Yep, the termite mounds were epic!

Yep, the termite mounds were epic!

Nothing better than swimming at a waterfall:-)

Nothing better than swimming at a waterfall:-)

AHHHHHH!

The photo says it all!

The photo says it all!

Back into home brewing:-)

Back into home brewing:-)

Documenting the film crew documenting us.

Documenting the film crew documenting us.

My trusty little helper, helping with the electric fencing.

My trusty little helper, helping with the electric fencing.

After a week in torrential rain and gale force winds with 28 15 year olds, I went a little crazy...

After a week in torrential rain and gale force winds with 28 15 year olds, I went a little crazy…

Finally, we got Little-little one onto the farm to service the girls. He is a little out of condition - to much grass, too little exercise - but hopefully with a strict diet, he can back into shape and do his thing.

Finally, we got Little-little one onto the farm to service the girls. He is a little out of condition – to much grass, too little exercise – but hopefully with a strict diet, he can back into shape and do his thing.

Yep, the end of a school year and we all go crazy, especially when building wood ovens.

Yep, the end of a school year and we all go crazy, especially when building wood ovens.

These aquaponic tomatoes are going great guns in the greenhouse!

These aquaponic tomatoes are going great guns in the greenhouse!

Plenty of feed for the livestock this winter! No need to buy in hay this time, thanks to our friendly neighbours.

Plenty of feed for the livestock this winter! No need to buy in hay this time, thanks to our friendly neighbours.

Introducing Ari Quach, my new nephew! Congratulations Nam-Do, Liana and Sian :-)

Introducing Ari Quach, my new nephew! Congratulations Nam-Do, Liana and Sian ­čÖé

New cousin!

Home grown dinner! Highland Heritage lamb, garlic, rosemary, thyme and oregano! 4 hour slow roast. Divine!

Home grown dinner! Highland Heritage lamb, garlic, rosemary, thyme and oregano! 4 hour slow roast. Divine!

With our kitchen being commercialised, we now bake sourdough breads for our customers as well as part of our suspended produce and bread program.

With our kitchen being commercialised, we now bake sourdough breads for our customers as well as part of our suspended produce and bread program.

Nothing better than seeing all the family together.

Nothing better than seeing all the family together.

Ava-Li loves her Gramps:-)

Ava-Li loves her Gramps:-)

Dangling Christmas balls look awesome over amazing food being consumed by an amazing family. After giving cancer a good kick up the bum, it is great to see Nan Nan so healthy and with so much energy:-)

Dangling Christmas balls look awesome over amazing food being consumed by an amazing family. After giving cancer a good kick up the bum, it is great to see Nan Nan so healthy and with so much energy:-)

Gramps has much more patience than I! The boys loved working with Gramps to put together their Christmas pressie!

Gramps has much more patience than I! The boys loved working with Gramps to put together their Christmas pressie!

Yep, the tilte is not a typo! Frost damage last weekend... Unreal, middle of summer and we got frost. Tomatoes, zucchinis, beans, corn, cucumber.... all the frost tender plants, got frost bite...

Yep, the tilte is not a typo! Frost damage last weekend… Unreal, middle of summer and we got frost. Tomatoes, zucchinis, beans, corn, cucumber…. all the frost tender plants, got frost bite…

As part of our business and farm ethos, we want to give as much as we can to those in need. We have extended this opportunity to our customers and for every suspended dollar they give, we match it. It works similar to suspended coffee, but with produce and bread instead. Go to http://www.suspendedcoffeemelbourne.com.au/ for more info on suspended coffee.

As part of our business and farm ethos, we want to give as much as we can to those in need. We have extended this opportunity to our customers and for every suspended dollar they give, we match it. It works similar to suspended coffee, but with produce and bread instead. Go to http://www.suspendedcoffeemelbourne.com.au/ for more info on suspended coffee.

So now in 2014, I have begun a new role at my work looking at whole school sustainability, in buildings, grounds and curriculum, which will bring with it many new challenges. It will mean a reshuffle of the routines of managing the farm, the business and life in general, but hopefully will allow for a continued focus of sustainable practices across the board.

Thanks again to all who have supported us in our endeavors and journey in life. Bring on 2014!

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Perspective

We all have our ups and downs and there are certainly times where I am sure that we have all look up and wondered how we can climb out of the dark hole that we are in. Of recent, this is exactly the predicament that I have found myself in, both at work and on the farm. Being in dark places, it is often challenging to break free and the difficulties faced can and do create a self fulfilling prophecy. It is fascinating that I spent five years of my professional life as a counsellor and saw the difference my support and advice made to the people who sought my ear, yet I am too stubborn – to the point of arrogance – to take some of my own advice, knowing full well the benefits of such. For this very reason I am so grateful that I have a great wife who puts up with my rants, raves and rages and then tells me as it is, changing my perspective on situations and pointing out all of the positive aspects of what has been achieved, while acknowledging the challenges to be faced. And the friends and colleagues who can see and share the vision and understand that positive change takes time and persistence. To them I am also grateful, for when I stare out the window in frustration they are able to bring me back to reality and also point out how far we have come and although there is still a looooooong way to go, the dream of change is becoming a reality.

On the farm, although things are going extremely well, we have only had 117mm of rain to date, and this is including the most recent rain event (which saw an added 15mm to the gauge, where other places within 15kms received up to 40mm). That being said, all of the hard work we have put into the market garden has seen it thrive and flourish despite early frost, no rain and an escaped cow to contend with! All of the manures, compost and mulch we have added through the last two years are really coming into their own in moisture retention and reducing plant stress through periods of dry. The paddocks however are struggling and we really need to keyline rip, and put in our planned swales and dams to allow for water and fertility security. The aim before years end, to put in one swale on our keyline contour which will stretch almost 500m in total, linking two dams. Through the process, I will no doubt enjoy every second of the surveying, pegging, marking, digging, fencing, planning and planting, working with nature to regenerate and improve what we have.

…. after reflecting on the past few days, weeks, months and years, the reality is, I have a beautiful family and the best of friends and am blessed with life. Although there are some dear to us who are ill, they are recovering and it is them who bring us all back to reality. I am no Bill Gates, but I feel like the wealthiest person on Earth.

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On Holidays and Time to Catch-up With Farm Work

Although I am on my holidays, there really isn’t any “holiday” here at the farm. I will be making weekly visits to work to check up on everything as well as do our regular deliveries. It was a pretty hectic end to the year, but all the jobs have been completed at work and now it is time to catch-up on work on the farm.

The market garden is coming along well, with potatoes now being harvested. The first batch of potatoes were from seed potatoes saved from last year’s crop. These have not done as well as the bought seed potato and next year I will be a little more stringent on seed saving selection. This being said, the no dig style beds are still producing well and as the bed gets harvested, they will be limed, rock dusted and top dressed with manure ready for another crop. The purchased seeds have gone much better and we should get a pretty good harvest with them.

The greenhouse project is now back on. I should have the frame completed by the end of the week, ready to be clad with polycarbonate panels. This greenhouse won’t be going anywhere! It is securely anchored into the ground and the frame itself weighs a ton – almost literally! The frame is made from blackwood, harvested from a friends place about 10kms away. This is a beautiful timber, normally used for furniture. This will be the best looking greenhouse around ­čÖé

The frame is almost complete. Made from blackwood, this is going to be the best looking greenhouse around!

Update

It has been a little while since my last blog entry. Things have been pretty busy, both here on the farm but also at work. This time of year we are busy marking, writing reports, more marking and more reports… It is part of the job, and I must say the least enjoyable. That being said, it is a small price to pay really when you love your job:-)

So firstly an update on the farm:

The orchard is coming along very well this season. I count over 20 apples that, if the rabbits or birds don’t get them, will develop well and should be ripe for the picking from January onwards. Considering they were almost all ring barked last summer by rabbits and they have only been in for 18mths, I don’t think I have done too badly with keeping them going. Our hope is that they will continue to grow this season without any pruning, and then next season, each of the trees should have a handful of fruit, with a good crop in season 2014/2015.

The market garden is starting to really thrive. In our local climate, we are about 2-3 weeks behind Melbourne’s growing season, however in our makeshift little greenhouse, we managed to get things started and planted nice and early. Our mini-swales on contour are working well and the compost I made and spread made a huge difference to growth rates. We did get a late frost which burnt some of the zucchini leaves. They have made a comeback, however, I am sure they would be much more advanced if not for the frost. All good though as zucchini goes crazy when producing! All our other┬áveggies┬áare coming along well, with new additions to our stock this year, violet cauliflower and chilli, as well as a mixed variety of colourful carrots.

New mains irrigation lines have gone in in preparation for next seasons extension and over half of the market garden is now irrigated, with the rest to be completed as funds come in. The no-dig style potatoes are going well, of all of the seed potatoes, I would estimate that 70% of last season potatoes have sprouted and about 90% of new season seed potatoes taking. There are still more to go in and as work finishes up, I should get more time and energy to finish planting. I have not irrigated them at all however they are well wet enough and I will continue monitoring as the summer approaches.

Our first batch of chicks were hatched two weeks ago and they are all going well. We aim to add another 20 girls to the laying flock and process any excess we have. With our consumption rate, we will need 30 chickens in the freezer for the year. This will add to the 2 lambs and cows we will process through the year. Plenty of protein for a growing family, plus some:-)

So the question is, will we be ready for a farmers market stall in January/February??? The way things are growing… probably not, but will give it a good crack:-)

At work work, things are also pushing along. I have just got formal approval for teaching Permaculture at the school to year 9 and 10’s in 2013 and 2014. We will have a trial year in 2013, but I am sure that in 2014 and beyond, we will be teaching a full Permaculture Design Certificate! Also, work on the swale design orchard has started. With a fall of 1/10, no irrigation and horrible, horrible clay to work with, it will be interesting how well the design works. Last night and this morning we had a decent dump of rain, about 25-30mm of rain in 12 hours. The bottom 3 “speed humps” have been rough cut in and it was amazing to see how in a very raw state, the speed humps slowed the water down and collected so much silt. As the remaining swale/ponds are shaped, this should reduce significantly the erosion that occurs on the site as well as allow for a huge collection of water to infiltrate into the berm.

Things are moving along, plenty of work to do both on farm and at work and as we come to the end of the year, rather than slowing down, it is time to speed up!

New addition and greenhouse update

Work starts back up again tomorrow and the jobs I had down to complete are nowhere near finished. Oh well, Rome wasn’t built in a day… Progress on the greenhouse timber frame has been slow, however, one bent is finished, ridge pole for the roof rough cut and one tenon done and second bent well under way. Tano-Li, my little padawan has been ever floating around the workshop area finding jobs to do. He came in the other day, said he wanted to help, grabbed the broom and started sweeping up! I then gave him a few little jobs to help with and we both had a great time ­čÖé Kobe-Li then got in on the action and so I stopped what I was doing (ran out of little jobs) cut up a few off cuts and pre drilled these for the boys:

These were cut out of off-cuts and pre-drilled for the boys to put together.

They had a great time putting them together, using a cordless drill, and sanding down the edges!

Tano-Li has also helped with the framing:

Tano-Li making sure the shaping was square and true.

Bit blurry sorry – bad light. This is the first bent finished. The rafters are cut and shaped ready to fit once the whole thing goes up.

I decided to bolt the frame together rather than timber pegs, just for that added bit of security and due to time constraints. Once this whole thing is up it is going to look awesome!

We have also┬áreceived┬ádelivery of a belted galloway 6mth old steer to grow out. Won’t be for another 18 months before we process him, but I am sure it will be well worth the wait ­čśë

He is fitting in well with the others after a tentative day.

Lastly, I caught sight of a massive – read freaken huge – fox down by the dam the other morning (9am), so it was time to sure up the chicken pen with hot wire. The chicken pen now looks like Fort Knox, hot wire above, between and 10cm off the ground to stop digging – and yes the hot wire does work….

Hot wired chook pen., will definitely keep Mr Fox away!

Big Week

A very busy week coming up! With deliveries coming out of our ears, we were starting to worry that we would not have enough stock to fill all of our orders, but after a quick walk around the market garden, things are looking ok in terms of meeting supply for this week. That being said, if have many more weeks like this one, we will start to really struggle as winter has well and truely hit us here in our patch of paradise.

I woke up this morning and outside the thermometer was reading -2deg Celsius! Now that is cold! That being said, our market garden still manages to pump out the produce, but things have┬ádefinitely┬ástarted to slow down. My 3rd batch of corn, although ripening, is on its last legs. My 4th batch, well that will be a treat for the cows… All the tomatoes have been pulled up and so have our different beans. Peas are slowly going in as are the broad beans to make use of the trellis I put up and help nitrogen fix the soil. Still another 3-400 garlic bulbs to go in to reach my aim of 1000+ (may go for 2000 as we have enough plus some to spare). More carrots, lettuce, bok choy and brassicas as well as beetroot and turnips have gone in and this coming week I will hopefully get more alliums in like onions, onions, onions, chives, leeks and spring onions transplanted and get the next batch of various seeds started in punnets. My makeshift greenhouse is still doing ok, but I really need to get started on the large seedling and aquaponics greenhouse to help keep temperatures stable at night, particularly with the temps getting so low so soon.

I also managed to get another batch of hot compost started last weekend, hopefully it will be ready in 4-5 weeks. The pile was steaming all weekend and this coming weekend I will give it a turn and get things cranking again. The animals that have all contributed to the pile have also been looked after, the cows cell grazing paddocks set again for the week, sheep and alpacas moved and chickens in the Taj and newly completed Raw Bale chook shed pampered as always (except for the last remaining 3 roosters who will be processed this weekend – well they at least have all the food they want, all the grass they can eat, fresh water, safe housing and shelter from the elements, so I guess the are temporarily pampered too).

Work work, also pretty busy, aquaponics being quoted, more planting and tree orders, more regenerative projects, 10 (out of 20) raised garden beds on their way ready for a school mini farm, retaining walls and indigenous nature walk planned and quoted, marking, lessons to be planned, student teacher to mentor and debrief daily, department to run and streamline (now that is a big job!) whole school curriculum to be audited and altered and behaviour modification in the way of sustainable practice and education to be slowly implemented.

Ahhh, another day of living the dream.

Did I mention that this weekend we have a 7 year old party to organise….

The buzz word… “Sustainability…”

It is very much a buzz word, and has been for a little while now. But what does it really mean? One definition I found was pretty apt: “Practically, sustainability refers to three broad themes, economic, social and environmental, that must all be coordinated and addressed to ensure the long term viability of our community and the planet.” (http://www.benefits-of-recycling.com/definitionforsustainability.html)

True sustainability is, I believe, hard to achieve, but once there, should be, by definition easy to maintain. 1 years ago, I started researching mudbrick, ramed earth and strawbale houses, 11 years ago, Hayley and I purchased our first house in The Basin, at the foothills of Mount Dandenong and a┬álittle┬áover 1 year ago, we purchased our little piece of heaven south of Buninyong. Here, we have tried and continue to try to live a life that is as sustainable as we possibly can, in every sense of the word. Our market garden is in it’s infancy, but is slowly producing an income, socially, we have made a number of new friends in the local area and have kept the friendships we have made from the places we have lived over the past 12 years and environmentally we are trying to minimise our impact on this planet both on a local level but also a┬áglobal┬álevel.

In the coming months, the farm will have a new sustainable addition in the form of a small greenhouse to house my Aquaponics Mk III and to raise our seedlings, a shade house and a strawbale work shed which will be the hub of our market garden operation. The plan is to have the aquaponics system running purely off solar and also electrify the shed via the same off-grid solar system. This is all a big ask to get done with┬álittle┬áto no money while working full time and market gardening in the my spare time, not to mention be a loving and caring dad and husband, but in the long run, it will be worth it. I am a stubborn mule, and maybe a little OCD (OK a lot), so when I get stuck on an idea, I don’t stop until I follow it through. Lucky Hayley and the kids are understanding and also see the bigger picture!

But it doesn’t just end here on the farm. At work work, I have the┬áprivilege to be closely involved in the “sustainability” development. This includes both the academic element as well as the practical element. I am in the midst of planning a “Tiny Farm” at the school, which, over 3-5 years will hopefully feed the school ie canteen and home economics department, as well as provide excess to sell to the immediate community. Hopefully all this work will make an impact on the students and they begin to understand why this buzz word is so important.