Wowsers, I’m exhausted!
Seven and a half days straight here at David Arnold’s fruit farm 'Murrnong' in Violet Town, VIC. Two hours slightly East of North out of Melbourne, David has been here around thirteen years setting up a future community, mostly on his own, with the help of wwoofers like myself. He normally plans to have weekends a bit more downtempo than weekdays but right now summer is coming and he has had less wwoofers than usual, so things are a little behind schedule. Today (day 8) is the first day my body physically started to feel tired, in need of rest and a good massage! Good job my next host runs an ecoshiatsu retreat centre!
The most prominent issue out here in rural Victoria is fire danger. As soon as you leave the city, just an hour out in places, fire risk goes up significantly and rural VIC has immense concerns for the possibility of natural destruction on an enormous scale, especially since Black Saturday, 2008. Apparently with eucalyptus trees, the heat causes the oil to seep out of the trees as a flammable vapor. The fire burns this vapor before it burns the trees, and is the reason why fires are able to travel 60km in 15 minutes. Very scary stuff.
So much of the work I have been helping him with has been in preparation for the dry summer ahead.
Through much experience and self-guided learning, David has built an extensive knowledge base and is very giving of his information. Always happen to answer a question or share some insight, he is an experienced host and very good at connecting his willing worker on his organic (permaculture) farm with a job that suits them well, taking into consideration level of experience and/or area/s of interest. Of course, you have to want to learn or you won’t... he asks that only people with an interest to learn about Pc get in contact. He’s not sure if this is why he’s getting less wwoofers this year in comparison to last, but I for one have been very grateful for the exchange. My prerogative since I arrived has been to learn, learn more, experience some, learn even more, and have some fun wherever possible, in that order. I have not been disappointed.
I could write a million words about what has been happening here, but I want to be more succinct than that. I think photos are the way to do it, so below are a bunch of brief stories, anecdotes and lessons with accompanying photos. I hope it gives some insight into how much I have been learning while I have been here. With my trusty point-and-shoot camera always in my pocket just in case I saw something I needed to remember, I managed to document a fair bit of my stay here.
If you are interested to see more about David's setup, check out his youtube channel:
The up-turned raft - built by a wwoofer, he put a roof on it which was unnecessary, and meant that when i was windy, the raft capsized, and took with it the water pump. Fire safety compromised, we needed to rescue it!
Fruit tree pollination. Bees make honey and pollinate plants to produce fruit. A recommended book is 'The Botany of Desire' by Michael Pollan. He gives insight into a different way of looking at nature, and how plants have successfully manipulated humans, rather than the other way around. In fact I recommend ANY of his books!
The chook shed - daily routine is to be left in until midday so they lay most of their eggs, then they are let out into the property. 9 chickens plus one rooster have access to roam the whole property - 20 acres (8 hectares). Often following us around bas we are likely to be working the earth where grubs are to be found. Before dark they are fed the scraps from the kitchen, watered and locked in for the night. We were getting about 6 eggs each day. The yolks yellower than anything I've seen before.
Wormwood - strategically placed so that when the chickens are let out (the hatch is around the corner from this healthy wormwood bush) the chickens rub up against it. The oil transferred onto the chooks repels insects... so simple and so effective!
The design of Murrnong is such that when David sells off subdivisions of his land, the houses built will already have an established orchard around them. When they are inhabited, the existing infrastructure (pictured) becomes the 'Future Farm Centre', a communal building including a workshop, food processing area, and so on.
The 'closed carbon cycle' - grow trees, grow too many, thin them, chop for wood. The trees left standing have room to grow into the space left. Burn the wood, release carbon, the carbon is sequestered by the existing trees and stored back into the tree. Closed loop carbon cycle.
Grapefruit in the orchard. This is the first of four passes made to maintain the orchard. First we clear the grass around the trunk and irrigation (the red stick) so it can be seen when mowing. Second is the mowing run, removing the grass from under the canopy. Third we pruned the 'suckers' and fourth we shovelled mulch to cover the root zone. They were happy trees by the time we'd finished with them!
Preserves - oh the preserves. This is the first time I'd seen true abundance of food in a home. So many pickles, and fruit processed for times when they are less available due to the seasons. We ate olives, peaches, plums, pears... david makes yoghurt daily, there was no shortage of food and little need to go to the shops. There's a running joke that it's 'David's Town' - everything you need is there, so you never need to leave!
David (2nd from RHS) running an Introduction to Permaculture Course in Shepparton, my first experience of the 'other side'. After being a student for the past couple of years, I am starting to see myself as a teacher of Pc. I'm a way off yet, taking heed of David's advice that you need to be prepared for questions and have an ability to answer them, in order to be an effective teacher.
Cleaning up the wood from the raft with the angle grinder. Another new skill for my tool belt! To make the farm fire safe, another raft needs to be built but we ran out of time, so while the timber is ready for reconstructing, the pump is currently sitting on the ground of the dam wall, which is not as safe as floating on the water, away from the fire's reach.
The orchard after the fourth pass - how happy do those trees look? The chook's getting stuck in too!
Brilliant design: community house in Violet Town. Funding came for a retrofit which was designed and implemented by David. One of the many improvements is in this courtyard - instead of shade cloth grapes have been planted (and other herbs). Eventually, the vines will grow up the chains in each corner and cover the pergola with fruit, and provide shade for the area in summer. Being deciduous, their leaves will drop in winter and allow the sun through to warm the space in winter.
Important upgrade of the water system, changing arterial above-ground pipes from plastic to steel in case of fire.
Was fun throwing tools up to him, my juggling skills came in very handy!
Humanure from the composting toilet. Such an amazing resource - add some sawdust to your deposit each time to balance out the carbon-nitrogen mix, and let the worms do the rest. This pile, removed from the loo when full, was stored by the house and did not smell. It was teeming with worms, and was safe to touch by hand - amazing nature doing what it does best - no chemicals required.
View of the orchard from the water tower, facing South. Foundations of the first dwelling are in place, amongst the fruit trees - can you imagine living there? Bliss!
That grass really needs cutting though! The tractor will be in to do it soon.
Future Farm Centre - mud brick, solar hot water, water tank, grapes on the pergola, kitchen garden, photovoltaics, North facing for solar gain, concrete slab absorbs heat from the sun and gives off heat during the night...
And that's me having a great time operating the mower on the very first day that seems such a long time ago now. I was full of energy and thirsty for knowledge, I gave a heap of energy and in return gained a whole lot of knowledge. Right from the start I was being shown tasks I needed to do but also why I'm doing them, what the system is for, and it all made perfect sense. I hope I can be good host myself too.
I had no idea what was in store for the next 7 days after this photo, and what an amazing, full, inspiring time I have had. Words actually can't do it justice... I whole heartedly recommend going woofing yourself and experiencing it - who knows where it might lead you!?
For me, since leaving, I feel like I have had a glimpse into the future, of my life in Tasmania, a simpler but more abundant life with Permaculture all around. It's absolutely possible, I am starting to grasp the concept of having my own land, perhaps an acre, having wwoofers, and abundance all around me and my community. I feel different in my body too, I feel more centered, better grounded, more in tune with nature, and less need for things like driving, town water and supermarkets.