Excursion — 18 April, 2010

On a perfect autumn day, about 30 SAGE members and friends drove through the dirt roads of the Deua National Park to a wonderful farm on the Deua River.

The property is the Home of Michael and Wendy Hulse. Michael is one of the founders of the SAGE project and is a hands on farmer.

There was so much to see and do that we all felt both enthused by the projects under way and some were a little overwhelmed at the scale of Michael’s vision.

We went first to the green house where Michael is constructing 2 “wicking” garden beds (check out Colin Austin’s Waterright website).

SAGE members eagerly absorb Michael's talk while he demonstrates a wicking bed under construction

A wicking garden bed under construction

The sides of the beds are from recycled corrugated iron sheets which are supported by star posts driven into the earth at around 1.2 metre intervals. Corners are from a pair of 100×50 hardwood members screwed together to form an angle. The ground below the beds was levelled and a screed of 50mm of sand placed over. Builder’s grade black plastic sheet was then placed over the sand and turned up the walls. slotted 50mm irrigation pipe was wired in place over the plastic to protect both the plastic and hands from the edges of the iron sheets.

The central PVC pipe is where the system is filled with water. It has holes drilled in its lower section to allow the water to percolate into the 300mm deep coarse river sand base. The water level in the sand base can be easily gauged by simply looking down this pipe.

The sheet that can be seen pulled back to show the sand base in place is a geotextile fabric. This allows the free passage of water from the sand to ‘wick’ upwards by capillary attraction into the soil layer (yet to be installed) which sits above the fabric. Fines from the soil are prevented from mixing with the sand by this fabric.

The perforated sections of pipe which are sitting on top of the fabric are worm feeding stations. They are mini worm farms where household scraps and other organic matter can be added to the garden to be distributed by the worms. These 2 beds will provide most of the vegetables for household use.

Michael intends to build another 40 beds in the open adjoining the greenhouse as a commercial market garden.

Cross-sectin diagram of wicking bed

click to enlarge

SAGE will be installing similar beds in the near future, possibly using some recycled water in the base as shown in the drawing above.

One of Michael's thriving worm farms, made from an old bath

The worm farm

The next point of interest was Stage 1 of a series of worm farms that will use recycled baths. A windbreak of Silky Oaks provides the perfect shady home for the worm farms which have a simple hinged lid of timber and iron. The ‘worm juice’ collects on the bath drain and is collected for garden use. As more baths are collected, they will be placed in line running down the slope in between the trees, connected by 50mm irrigation pipe.

At the bottom of the hill, a large collection well will hold the worm juice ready for use on the wicked gardens.

A view of the large multiple compost piles and the farm's service yard

Service yard, compost, chooks and orchard

Here is our group walking from the worm farm to the chook shed and enclosed orchard. The tool shed and tractor scale compost bins can be seen on the right. The chook shed has been built on a raised rock and earth base with a concrete floor. A wheelbarrow can be positioned next to the access door and the whole shed floor swept directly into it.

SAGE members explore Michael's orchard, accompanied by some of his free range chooks

In the orchard with the chooks

The orchard is yet to have its roof installed, but the trees are showing good growth for their first year. They will be pruned for shape when they are dormant, their root zones mulched and the mulch covered with wire netting to prevent the chooks from scratching there and exposing the feeder roots. The orchard will comfortably house around 40 chickens, fertilising and reducing the incidence of fruit fly by eating fallen fruit. As this is all uphill from the intensive broadacre vegetable growing area, the fertility of the orchard will percolate down into the lower soils.

After a wonderful morning tea (including scones jam and cream — we will spare you the pictures) we adjourned to the paddock to plant the second stage of Michael’s garlic crop.

SAGE members got their hands dirty by helping plant a garlic crop

Planting garlic

After flattening the tops of the ‘hills’ with a hoe (this softens the crust and gets the cloves into more moist soil) the individual cloves were planted 15cm apart. The first garlic cloves were planted after 3pm on Friday April 9 which was the optimum time by the biodynamic calendar (10 days previously to our planting). The first shoots can be seen on the left of the picture.

Another shot of SAGE members planting rows and rows of garlic

Bottoms up for garlic

Many hands make light work, and we completed the sowing of around 10 rows. The greenhouse can be seen on the left, and the silky oak windbreak which will eventually house a cascade of worm farms is at the far end of the rows.

After lunch we returned renewed and inspired.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *