Tag Archives: earthworks

In which the House Dam fills but does not fail – Huzzah!

So just over a year ago, our house dam filled for the first time. And then went into scary nearly-melt-down. So we pumped the water out, fixed it, and then waited for it to fill again. And waited. For a year.

Do excuse multiple soggy shots of muddy pools, but this is big news at Milkwood Farm. Last weekend, for the first time, our swale and dam system filled, thanks to a big downpour on the tail of a very wet spring. And nothing went wrong. Yay! Continue reading

Re-setting the spillways

Our very full swale snaking past the house and into our very full dam

For the last 2 and a half years we have waited for the big rain which would test the capacity of our water-harvesting earthworks. And waited. We’ve had a bit of rain here and there, but the summers have been hot and dry these last two years, and we had gotten used to life with half-full dams and swales which were good roads, but rarely wet.

And then, when we least expected it, our system filled up. Finally. Continue reading

The saga of the top dam

Nick and Mark discussing the merits of DIY dam sealing techniques

A leaky dam is an embarrassment to everyone concerned. The earthworks operator who built it feels terrible. The people who paid for it feel indignant. The folks who designed it feel responsible. And the ground beneath the dam wall feels wet.

In the case of our top dam, wet is an understatement. Small babbling brook, gushing forth from beneath the pipe in the dam wall, is more accurate. Hmm. What to do.

Continue reading

Autumn adventures

students planting trees on the swale

Our Permaculture Design Certificate students planting trees on the main swale

‘Twas an autumn of harvesting apples, and to a degree, reaping what we had sowed… we may not have brought a crop in at Milkwood, so to speak, but we sure did our Autumn toil.

To summarise the last period of time, Milkwood was awash in farmers, tractors, students, caravans and Keyline Plows. There was much planting of trees and eating of stews, and many, many pots of tea were drunk… a wood-fired shower materialized, a bigger (quite deluxe, really) Milkwood HQ caravan arrived. Landscapes were charted, courses were convened, hillsides were surveyed and many cakes baked… Continue reading

Our first dam

The studio dam, the one halfway up the ridge and in the middle of our system, was the first one we all sunk our teeth into. And boy oh boy…earthworks are something else… it’s like having your skin torn off in large slabs, while someone tells you it’s not skin, it’s just butter. No problem…

Strange analogy, perhaps… but until I had witnessed these earthworks, the landscape of Milkwood to me was a solid and impermeable mass… something that you could get a shovel into if you were lucky, but essentially one big, solid object. And then the bulldozer showed up. And now everything looks like a completely different place.

We were actually really lucky with what is usually a  traumatic time (don’t get me wrong… it was still pretty scary) when setting up a property… hydrology earthworks are something that you want to only do once, if at all possible. Nick and I had chewed over the Permaculture earthworks design for months, and to add excitement to the situation, we invited Geoff Lawton to Milkwood to teach a Permaculture Earthworks course during the first three days of the madness that has been the terra-forming of Milkwood. Continue reading

Surveying the site from scratch

Having grand plans is all very fine, but there comes a time when one must make the first, single, decisive gesture towards action.

For us, this meant placing a small wooden peg, painted white, at the southern boundary of Milkwood. And then surveying a contour which continued aaaallllll the way around the hillside at the same height as that first peg, right around to the other boundary of Milkwood on the western side of the ridge. This first contour was important to mark out for a couple of reasons: Continue reading

Milkwood – the water design

aerial shot of kirwin

Aerial photo of Kirwin, with Milkwood top left-ish. Taken in about 2002, we think.

Standing on a bare hilltop, with the creek below and a small creekflat to the left, it all seemed so easy when we first got here… all we had to do was figure out where to put some structures, avoid the big trees, and build a bridge over the creek to get in. Grow something on the creekflat, put in a vegie garden, and get water from the sky… and the rest of it all, all those complex ideas and fiddly bits, could just wait till we were nicely set up. Continue reading

Earthworks, water and other fantastic fun

lily pags in Geoff's dam

Water is precious. And hard to find, around here. The process of designing hydrology into a site so that whatever water is available is used intelligently and for multiple purposes before it is allowed to seep out of the soil and into the creek is a tricky task. We have spend nigh on a year now, just watching the rainfall and the landscape and thinking and planning how we would best design Milkwood to make the most of our limited rainwater catchment.

How we could harvest that water and divert it across the landscape so that it seeps in gently and slowly, creating places for things to grow, rather than have the water pelting down the cleared gullies on either side of Milkwood, to swell the eroded creek and rush off downstream before the land and the soil has had a chance to benefit from it. Continue reading

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