Summer 2013 at ‘Caroola’ (NSW, Australia) – Water, Bushfires, Regeneration and Lots of Learning

Scorched land

What can I say, the beginning of 2013 saw a huge exposure to external influences, including bushfire and lots of rain, but continued learning, planning and a solid and exciting way forward!


Water, as any permaculture designer will attest, is one of the most important facets of designing any productive and sustainable system. Suffice to say the water situation at Caroola needed improving. Whist rainwater runs freely into tanks, the capacity and pressure is not enough to service future stock, tree and garden needs. There is a water easement to the nearby Mulloon Creek and an unequipped bore as well, but working out where the lines go and trying to get the pump working took a frustrating weekend in 43°C heat at the beginning of January. (And in any case, the bushfire that followed destroyed the pump, pumphouse and irrigation lines….)

Mulloon Creek water easement

Equipment arrives

After much coordination, assistance from neighbours and a huge truck, most of the equipment from my ‘old’ farm arrived safely at the new farm. From an Holistic Management point of view this has added considerably to the resource base to get things ‘moving’ on the farm. Way too much equipment for a 100 acre property, but with some ‘fair exchange’ contracts in place it will enable us to get much more done in a shorter period of time.


Having received a ‘catastrophic’ bushfire warning from the Rural Fire Service (RFS), forecasting 100km an hour westerly winds with fires already in the area, I packed up early on the morning of 8 January and left with the dog and campervan to my sister’s place nearby. Suffice to say, when the children and I returned the next day it was black, black, black — the RFS was still in attendance and the smoke and smell surrounded us.

The devastation to pasture, fences, water systems and tree lanes was the major issue. Thankfully the house, equipment and shedding was saved! The next few days consisted of continual monitoring to put out smouldering trees with the helicopters circling and collecting water from our dams. Thank you RFS!

Holidays and house-sitting

With a well-earned break on the coast planned with the kids, we headed off leaving my niece and her friend in charge of the farm – chooks, dogs, continued fire monitoring and looking after the garden. The fire had reduced habitat for many things, including field mice and ants who sought refuge in the house. This proved a challenge for our young house-sitters.

Keyline Plowing

With quite a heavy downpour of rain forecast, Cam Wilson from Earth Integral and Nick Huggins, permaculturalist and neighbour, were quick off the mark planning and executing some keyline plowing above the dams so that the charred paddock remains would not all end up in the dams and creek and cause further ecological problems.

After keyline plowing


After return from my break at the beach, it was great to see some green starting to show through, although there is still a lot of bare ground, and by the end of February the pasture was well on its way to recovery. The existing windbreaks, however, which were mainly pine, have not been so lucky to survive, so attention to tree planting will become a higher priority.

Regenerating pasture

Garden Growth and Harvesting

The immediate house area (i.e. within three metres of the house) was not affected by the fire, but was by the heat, so many of the seedlings I’d planted died, along with a few fruit trees. However the strawberries, comfrey, oregano and mint continue to thrive. We harvested a few tomatoes and some of the apple trees produced well also.

Garlic, chives and oregano

Further Education

February was a time of further education for me, with a fabulous week’s trip to the Permaculture Research Institute Zaytuna Farm for a course on Urban Design. For me it was not just about the course, it was also about the experience of spending time at the farm and joining in the daily activities, such as moving the cattle, the chickens, feeding the chicks and milking goats. There was fabulous food, great company and some good catching up with fellow permaculturalists too!

Zaytuna Farm’s Paradise Dam

I then headed off to Kiama for three days of fabulous Joel Salatin information sharing on pastured poultry, pigs and cattle — more food for thought when it comes to integrating different species of animals into a permaculture system. This was followed by a one-day Joel and Daniel Salatin event in Canberra on Succession Planning using multiple farm enterprises as the base.

Daniel and Joel Salatin

Planning moving forward — challenges are water, fencing, tree lanes

So, the end of Summer provided a lot more challenges than originally planned, but it was certainly action-packed learning. In the background, Cam Wilson was working diligently on my overall farm plan. If anything, the destruction of fencing, tree lanes and water systems has given us more flexibility in moving forward with design.

Farm Plan Concepts

With some overall concept planning in place, we’re looking forward to an exciting Autumn at Caroola!

One Comment

  1. Hi Penny. Yeah, the summer forced a major rethink of water resources here too.

    Sorry to hear about the bushfire. The RFS (Rural Fire Service), like the CFA (Country Fire Authority) in Victoria is largely comprised of volunteer members so donations of time or money to the local brigades is always welcome and needed as they are under resourced given the conditions. Volunteer firefighters in the CFA can end up doing 12 hour shifts in dangerous conditions sometimes on and off for weeks on end and a lot of people in rural areas forget this. People in cities have next to no idea about the sacrifice that these volunteer people make.

    As you’ve just had a bushfire, you’re probably OK for a fair few years and the extra potash will perform wonders to your fields and herbage. However, long term, I’d consider replacing the pines (which are quite flammable) with oaks and other hardy broad leafed species which are far less flammable as wind breaks. I’d seriously consider a hedgerow of mixed species.

    I met Joel Salatin when he visited a local farm (Taranaki) and the day was awesome and he was an inspirational speaker. The farm was an awesome place too. Respect for them and their produce. Keep up the good work. Chris

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