Sunday, May 3, 2015

Beginner Farming

One pretty cool thing about moving out of Observatory is that, in the moving process we bought a refurbished 6m shipping container. It's now on the plot. With all our stuff inside. So if someone wanted to, I guess they could just take it all. Hopefully not. A truck with this little crane dropped the container off about 15m into the plot, then the truck promptly got stuck in the sand. They used their crane to dig into the ground and free the wheels as they reversed, leaving holes about 1m deep in the sand. We're hoping to convert the container into a guest cottage in the next couple of years, as we come across materials and time.

This past summer we didn't have a water source, so planting trees was more of an experiment than anything else. There was a lot of manual labour involved- mostly my dad and I lugging water around in bottles, digging holes through very stony, sandy soil, and bringing bags of leaves from wherever we could find them, to provide mulch.

This is what's on the plot right now:

3 lemon trees
1 tiny apricot seedling, which somehow survived a summer without water- these seedlings are surprisingly hardy!)
lots of moringa trees
7 acacia trees, for nitrogen fixing and security (various South African acacias, not Australian wattle, though we have a lot of that, too, because it is so prolific on degraded soil!)
1 peach tree
1 pomegranate tree
24 pineapples
some little sweet potato vines, trying to get started
6 grape vines
4 avocado seedlings
1 mango seedling
1 macadamia nut tree
1 granadilla vine.

The great news is that most of our trees survived the summer though they didn't grow much, they got acclimated to the plot. We're desperately need to get a borehole/wellpoint in place to provide a source of water in the months where there is no rain. Our long-term goal is to channel winter rainwater as well as our household greywater through mulch-filled ditches, so that we don't need to water the trees at all. But it will take several years for the trees to get well established (and for us to dig ditches by hand!), and if we don't irrigate in summer in the meantime, we're in danger of losing a lot of trees. So we'll use a wellpoint after the rain ends (September October), then dig trenches to allow water to flow around trees and encourage root spread.

We keep on finding more interesting and beautiful things on the plot. By no attentiveness of our own, and with no irrigation and a super hot dry summer, one of our olive trees bore plenty of olives this year. A friend brought over an oil press we ordered on Amazon (thank you Mardi! Thank you Amazon!), so we'll be ready to try our hand at olive oil... next year. This year, we'll let the birds enjoy them. With any luck (mulching, irrigating, adding vermicompost), I think we can get at least one of the other olive trees to fruit next year. We also found 6 eggs, which we had for breakfast. Next time we'll try incubating them instead. Pretty sure they were hens eggs. Most of our neighbours have chickens, and our plot has been vacant for long enough that random chickens and guinea fowl think they own the place.

In other news, we've realised we will need a car on the farm, ultimately to be shared with my parents when they move onto the farm with us. I remember Wendell Berry once wrote he could not get around the need for a car if one lives in a rural area, and at the time I thought we could find a way (the Amish certainly do, after all) but as we're figuring this out and trying for community, it feels like we'll need to use a car.

So there's are the hopes and dreams related to living on a farm, then there's figuring out the day-to-day. I don't really know what the day looks like yet, but if it's anything like the past couple of months, there's a lot of labour involved. Which is quite ok for Eug and I. What is challenging for me is how slowly things grow. I want to see massive change overnight, but really we're just seeing small, incremental changes to the plot. It's slow work. As winter approaches, things will grow even more slowly, but there will be more water, so who knows... we may see unexpected growth spurts.

We also have many trees and shrubs ready to go into the soil, and whenever we visit the plot we add a few more. The main difficulty this year has been waiting for rain. The rain came very late this year- last week. So we're ready to scavenge leaves for mulch and get trees in. Basically, getting ready for spring before winter has really started...

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