(Note: Some contents of this blog have been adapted for use in the 1 December 2013 Events Post.)
Lawrie (Roscow) moved into Pallara in the 1970s. The 6.5 acre property backs onto Oxley Creek and on at least three acres, the original dry sclerophyll and vine forest remain. Although Lawrie’s original aim for his bush block was to be self-sustaining, over 40 years, activities on any property evolve with changing interests and needs. In 1991, I (Liz Woods) joined Lawrie and we began to work together on improvements. Our first major project was to install irrigation to the main garden areas at the time, using mains water.
The original garden was built using an eclectic collection of foundling, mainly ornamental, plants, many of which Lawrie rescued when he worked with Tree Operations at BCC. These garden areas are now dominated by the survivors. There are many bromeliads.
Attempts at drought-proofing the fruiting plants and trees
Motivated by the need to conserve water in the early 2000s, Lawrie built a large dam in an existing swampy area which now effectively collects water from the front of the property and a neighbouring block.
Surrounding the dam, Lawrie has developed a sub-tropical/tropical fruit orchard using plant stock we have collected from various sources including suburban growers, members of the Sub-Tropical Fruit Growers Club, the local Templex nursery and more recently, Daley’s in Kyogle. Living close to Inala and Logan, Lawrie has collected quite a variety of bananas and plantains by building a connection with suburban growers.
We are currently re-routing the irrigation hardware which will deliver dam water to irrigate the orchard.
More recently, we installed a 5000 litre concrete water tank and this year Lawrie acquired three 1000 litre tanks to harvest rain water for the garden, from the house. The 1000 litre tanks were connected early in 2014 and provide water to green the gardens near the house.
The drought of the early 2000s caused us to heavily mulch our orchard and other large lawn areas, because it was becoming impossible to keep the lawn alive. These areas have never been returned to lawn and are now developing food growing areas, where tropical food crops (cocoyam, arrowroot, sometimes cassava, Ceylon spinach and a variety of gingers) are cultivated or bush tucker trees and plants have been planted.
Lawrie attributes the survival of his orchard and other plants, in part, to this heavy mulching practice, which has also contributed to the development of well drained soils, a haven for earth worms. Most of the original soil is clayey.
Forest mulch of all qualities is contributed free by two local tree loppers and this is supplemented by truck loads of sugar cane bales we've purchased at different times to protect young trees from moisture loss. We've purchased two loads this year, as we had had no rain for three months and summer was approaching.
In 2014, we needed to hand water, because of a lack of good rains throughout the year. We lost a few small fruit trees as a result. We intend to replenish the sugar cane bales which have decayed nicely over the past 12 months, because this strategy appears to have worked for the larger trees.
One down side of mulching heavily is that the soil which develops is a fertile haven for weeds, so Lawrie periodically uses the tractor to remove these to their own mulch heaps which are later distributed over the property. We need to improve the composting of this material though, to kill the weed seeds.
The bamboo grown along the front boundary of our property was planted originally to create a microclimate. It was acquired free and as it is a high starch variety it is readily attacked by borers and decays quickly. It has served its purpose and now provides enviable shade as well as copious leaves and is a useful temporary trellis/stake material. Eventually, this may be replaced by less 'dirty' fruit or nut trees. Lawrie gets worried by the fire hazard.
In 2014, we trimmed some of the bamboo directly in front of the house to hedge height to ensure better performance of newly installed solar panels. This has worked, but we notice the difference in temperature in the house, now that spring has arrived!
The cows, goats, sheep, geese, ducks and rabbits of the early years are long gone (along with the kids). There are now only a couple of rescued/donated chooks, some composting worms and assorted wildlife attracted by the dam. Lawrie is interested in trying to establish fish stocks in the dam, however despite introducing 50 silver perch fingerlings some years ago, this interest has not progressed, although Lawrie maintains he sees larger than plate size fish sunbathing in the shallows at times.
In 2014, we purchased four lovely Rhode-Island - Australorp cross chickens which have become great layers.
While we maintain 'We can rely on our fruit trees and other fruiting shrubs/plants to produce enough fruit for our needs throughout the year.' it is a different story when it comes to vegetables. The plan to grow vegetables again in earnest, is a work in progress. There are two or three potential vegetable growing areas. We have recently built two compost bays to create compost to help improve the soil for growing veges. In the meantime, a sunny garden bed has produced a reasonable crop of turnips and a few roma tomatoes, this year. Our place also produces recurrent self sown crops of cherry tomatoes, horned melon (spiky cucumber), Warrigal Greens, chillies and pumpkins.
Preserving and using our produce
I have always supported Lawrie’s efforts at self-sufficiency and we both work to preserve and use the produce from our property as effectively as possible. We dehydrate and freeze our excess fruit and vegetables. We make jams together and I make cordials, jellies, butters, pickles, relishes ... depending on the fruit or vegetables stored or available at the time. It is a challenge to adjust to using the tropical vegetables we have tried to grow, but building contact with people from different cultures improves our confidence to do this.
Finally, I must acknowledge our tools. Our efforts to develop our property have been supported through the acquisition and use of specific equipment. Our machinery becomes so important that individual machines are like family members. As a result, they are given names and our human family recognises: Hercules - the retired old Fordson tractor which helped build the dam, Hesta - the current Kubota tractor with its four-in-one bucket, Barry the carrier - the converted ride-on mower which pulls a mean little trailer, Moira - the ride-on mower and Rhonda - the current tipping truck. Our place now sports a network of gravel roads to provide easy access for these essential tools. We could never achieve what we do without the use of this machinery. They are also a source of enjoyment for our grandchildren, who can be enticed to help out in the garden periodically with the promise of driving Barry!
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