While we at Old Mill Road BioFarm may have a reputation as market gardeners primarily, growing vegetables is just the beginning when it comes to our farm plan. As well as having livestock components to our whole farm enterprise, for some time I have been wanting to integrate some type of forestry. Our bio-region naturally grows big timber trees quite well all on its own and the added benefits of windbreaks, livestock fodder and shelter, bio-diversity, root penetration, bee forage, added organic matter from leaf drop, a perpetual firewood supply all with the secondary purpose of millable timber, it’s a wonder more farmers haven’t planted more trees into their system. Thinking I’m probably missing something, I went to Millpost Farm near Bungendore to hear of farmer David Watson’s experience with trees and to seek some practical knowledge from forester Rowan Reid at a workshop conducted by Local Land Services.
Millpost Farm is a 2700 acre farm with now 3 generations of family living on and from it. It is a commercial wool enterprise which came under the management of David Watson in 1979. After the usual advice that farming wasn’t going to make him any money, David figured he’d try a different way, went and did one of the first permaculture courses with Bill Mollison, met Judith who was to become his wife and set about re-designing their property. As you can imagine, implementing a design over 2700 acres is not a weekend job. When David first came to Millpost there were 8 very big paddocks. The re-design, which ended up receiving assistance from David Holmgren, turned it into 100 paddocks. Since starting the implementation of the design, David and his family are at 60 paddocks which means they’re over halfway. What struck me about David is his quiet and very calm demeanour. Here’s a bloke who is happy to take a lifetime to do the job. Two points which resonated with me was that David said he was committed to the landscape he had taken responsibility for and in the time of his occupancy he has a great opportunity to go along with that responsibility. The second point was that he found an improving farm great for his own morale. It was exciting for him and Judith to notice improvements in the ecological system which is starting to flow through to their income. When he sees farms that are feeding hay to poor livestock among dusty fields, he wonders what that does for a farmer’s spirit.
Next, Rowan Reid told us bit about the art and science of growing trees for conservation and profit. He calls this the Third Wave in his book “Heartwood”, which I can highly recommend to anyone be you wood worker, farmer, timber cutter, take an interest in local production and ecology or just enjoy trees. We then went on a farm walk and here are my notes, which I hope you might find interesting enough to pursue:
And finally we talked about tree species that can influence soil chemistry and prevent erosion in sodic subsoils. It’s fascinating stuff and it takes up four full pages in the book, so too long to go into here but experiments on Rowan’s own farm with Sequoia have had remarkable results, along with providing a great timber and habitat for Southern Boobooks.
I had an interesting day, a great lunch on par with a SAGE meal and all from the farm. I learnt a fair bit and was very happy to meet David Watson and see their farm.