Friday, March 18, 2016

Busy as a beaver

We are experimenting with some hugelkultur beds. The details are for another post however, as we're only mid construction at this point. But as we've been collecting material for our hugelkultur beds, it got me looking at ALL the material we have laying around.

There's quite a lot in fact! With bush for a backyard, we are self-sufficient in woody material. But for our recent hugel beds, I used it as an opportunity to clear the areas around the house, first.

Laying near the verandah

These are black wattle saplings, David removed from a location we were clearing. He brought them down to the house, where I had the chipper at the time; dispensing prunings. I used some of what he brought down, but didn't get to it all. So it sat here, in a pile, for about a year.

Perfect aged material for a hugel bed. Plus, clearing combustible materials from around the house, is a sensible bushfire mitigation, strategy too. These had been on my mind all summer. Now they have a valuable purpose, amending soils and moisture, in a hugelkultur bed - away from the house.

Offloaded from our trailer and left insitu

Then there was the odd log, David collected from what others had dumped by the side of the road. We weren't sure what we were going to use it for, at the time, but we don't like to turn down a free resource when its available.  We knew we would find a purpose for it eventually

It has aged a lot, while waiting around for us to make up our minds though...


...which became apparent, after turning it over. Rotting and extremely brittle underneath, a piece broke off as I tried to lift it. Perfect, spongy material for a hugel bed. Though, I wasn't going to use it for that purpose.

I had another problem I needed to deal with, and this rotting log was going to help.

helichrysum petiolare, or licorice plant

I planted ground covers above our new retaining wall, but summer was particularly brutal. This is a licorice plant (a native of South Africa) and even it struggled with the lack of rain. Mulching to reduce evaporation, didn't seem to help either. It needed water, to avoid suffering the same fate as other plants which didn't make it.

So my solution was to place the rotting log, near the base of the plant. Any rain that hits it, will drain down to the base, keeping the roots of the plant, cooler and moist. You wouldn't do this to a licorice plant in a wetter climate, unless you have perfectly draining soil, as they're susceptible to root rot. But I'm hoping this plant will eventually cascade over our wall, to help reduce the heat it collects in the warmer months.

With rain predicted over the next few days though, the log should retain some extra moisture, as it settles in to its new location. But the forecast, also meant another job was in order.

Rainwater tanks

It was time to fill the rainwater tank, near Hilltop. I haven't got a gutter up yet, to collect rain from the chicken coop roof, so I run the house hose up, when rain is predicted. More room in our house tank that way, and we're storing a valuable resource, for later.

The two tanks near the chicken coop, help our plants get through the dry spell between spring and summer. It's not a lot of water, so it still has to be rationed during dry times, but collecting water when we have a surplus, is important for this reason.

Making the hugelkultur beds and seeing all the moisture under the ageing wood we have around, assures me, we can store a lot more water in the soil as well. So long as we have enough organic matter. Rain is often sporadic and the sun exposure during summer is extreme. So our soils always struggle to grow anything. But that's where we plan to utilise our abundance of rotting wood, to our advantage.

Being observed

While I was in the yard, moving materials around, I found a sensible old chook, taking refuge in the shade. She's nesting between two broken lawn mowers, we are keeping for parts. There's also a stand above her, creating the shade. It's a favoured spot, and she's perfectly camouflaged with all that black. I saw her with her baby brush turkey friend again, earlier this morning too.

I, on the other hand, continued to wrestle with branches and logs during the sunny morning. Finding patches of shade along the way, under mulberry trees, eucalyptus and acacias. I was noticing how cool it was under the mulberry in particular, as it has a swale on the upper side of it, absorbing sporadic rain.

 Under the mulberry ~
a favoured spot for 'this' old chook!

This tree also gets fed once a year, when it sheds its leaves in late autumn. We don't cart the leaves away to the compost, as the tree needs it, to grow fruit in spring. So the soil is rich underneath, and responds quickly to any moisture. The rest of the exposed yard however, even with the canopy of native trees, seems unquenchable in its thirst for moisture. We need more of these trees, which I'm currently attempting to propagate.

The more I work in the yard though, the more I realise as a species, we are perfectly engineered to benefit nature. We can collect wood, and position it to take maximum advantage of the rain. It's especially important as rainfall becomes less reliable too. We're kind of like beavers in this way. Australia doesn't have an equivalent native animal, that does the same kind of work with wood. So maybe us humans, will have to do.


  1. Nice idea about locating that log to help your ground cover! I love the idea of building the beds actuallly but you know the problems I had with mine:) I hope yours are more successful.

    1. I suspect I will have ants and termites moving into mine too, but they do that anyway, from the debris that naturally fall from the trees, onto the ground. It's always a challenge to find the right balance. But I'll have to see over time, if its worth the effort. :)


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