Monday, October 28, 2013

Another mattock mission

Something has bothered me since the 2011 floods, and this picture should sum it up quite vividly...

The Queensland floods impacted our yard

The area around the clothesline was enveloped with water and shot off around the chicken coop. I suspect this would have happened regardless, as there was just too much water for it to escape down the spoon drains we had provided. But it did help me to reassess what I had done to this area, to create such a bottleneck in the first place.

Just completed

I did this little project back in 2008. I had a lot of these hard-scape suburban solutions in the forefront of my mind, since we'd only lived on our property for 12 months. I wanted an attractive, yet functional area in which to hang my laundry. It certainly made it easier to keep the weeds in their place, but it failed in so many other ways because of it's singular design purpose.

Blocks sitting on crushed rock

Building a concrete barrier, which I thought would delineated my feet from water by elevating it above the spoon drain, really just increased the chances of erosion when the force of water was added. I had thought ever since, a new design was required. Something which would not deny the path of the flow of water,  but encourage holding some water back for moisture after the rain had passed.

Clothesline, on the right

So I removed the cement blocks recently, and used my trusty old mattock to create a very shallow swale. David cut some long grass recently, so I was able to collect grass and weeds (with seed heads) to sprinkle over the bare soil. Why did I want to propagate those pesky weeds for? Well, that is the only way I have seen the grass improve on our land. Grass grown with weeds, does far better through our dry spring, than the bare patches of grass alone. When the summer rains arrive, the grass overtakes any weeds growing around them, but when its not active growing season for grass, the weeds provide some shade over the grass roots.

I've learned to accept weeds provide a great service in the scheme of things, and by cutting them along with the grass, it keeps them under control in the areas I need them to be.

Different camera angle, looking up hill

When it came to finishing the swale however, I discovered I ran out of soil to level out the drop, so I resorted to using some old prunings to create a silt collector. With each rain event, the water will pass through, but drop silt and hopefully level out the area for me. I know this strategy already works with a little bridge which is nearby.

 Simple but effective

We call it our little bridge, but it's really just a plank! Essential though, to help us cross the spoon drain in the wet. Believe it or not, there was a large gap under the plank formerly. Being an obstacle to water however, it has gradually trapped silt and filled in the gap underneath. We actually had to dig the plank out of the silt after the floods, but hopefully we won't see that kind of deluge for a while.

A sprinkling of straw

I also sprinkled some straw over the swale, and hopefully the seeds from it will sprout too. We then placed our grey-water sprinkler nearby, to help all the seeds germinate. Hopefully by the end of the growing season, we'll have a lovely grassed area, designed to hold larger volumes of water.

Waiting for grass to grow

It looks a lot different to how it use to. A lot of permaculture design projects, tend to look a lot worse before they start to look natural and blend into the environment, as they were meant to.

You can still see some concrete blocks on the far right, which create a step down to the clothesline. I plan to remove them as well, because I want to mow all around the house with a manual, push mower. Those blocks get in the way of a strong stride, which is required to keep the manual blades spinning fast enough to cut the grass.

It's funny how your priorities change when you change your environment. If I can get grass to grow here, I can keep the area around the house cooler, plus feed our guinea pigs and the visiting wildlife. If I'm getting kangaroos through my garden on a regular basis, it means I'm doing something right. And I figure if the kangaroos are happy with the environment here, there's a chance the humans will find it a nice place to live too.


  1. I use to get distressed in painting class because inevitably the painting would look overworked and ugly. My teacher used to say that this was a necessary process and that even famous artists had to face it-it had to get ugly before it got to where it needed to go.
    What amuses me about permaculture is that all that work looks like its for nothing to an untrained eye but really its worth volumes isn't it?
    When I saw your "silt dam" made of twigs I thought of huglekulture.I suppose that might create a real dam if you actually added soil but maybe for future reference?

  2. I like the comparison to huglekulture, but it's like building one with the force of nature. Water will bring in the silt, it gets trapped and with each weather event it gradually turns into a wall of humus. It will grow whatever gets caught in the silt trap and can handle the conditions.

    Can I call it an above-ground hydroponic, huglekulture bed? ;)

    I haven't added more soil to this area, because I'm not entirely sure how I will shape the lower areas. Still much to do though. I'm just relieved I took the first step to breaking up the bottleneck. :)

  3. It might be a better bed if nature made it anyhow;)


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