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Fernglade Farm – Mid Summer (January) 2014 Update (Victoria, Australia)

The author, testing out the new sprinkler

Australia is a country of extremes. One part can have floods, whilst the other part is having massive bushfires and heatwaves. In Southern Australia, where I am, summer comes with extreme heat and the potential of very little rain. So a lot of my summer activity involves dealing with the heat, lack of rainfall and the possibility of bushfires.

Bushfires of the sort that occur in Southern Australia are a unique problem that not many permaculturalists have to consider. Infrastructure needs to be protected as much as possible from the possibility of massive devastation.

I built the house here to the highest building standards relating to bushfires, but the shed could be described as an at risk structure. Therefore, this summer I worked towards remedying this situation, understanding full well that there are no guarantees.

Sprinkler with herb garden and shed in the background

Accordingly I’ve recently installed some second hand stainless steel shutters over the windows in my shed (you can see these in the video). The shutters reduce the likelihood of the windows breaking during a bushfire as burning branches can possibly be thrown by the wind at speed. The shutters also reduce the heat inside the shed.

Bushfires also produce massive quantities of embers which can be propelled by the wind kilometres ahead of the actual fire. The embers look like a birthday cake sparkler, but are far more numerous and dangerous in that they can get into tiny gaps in roofs and set dry timber alight. Apparently once a roof is ignited it takes only four minutes for the house to burn to the ground in extreme conditions. To provide some protection against this the roof of the shed already has a fire blanket under the steel roof sheets.

Sprinklers are also useful in providing protection against embers and I have added an additional permanent sprinkler near the shed. (You can see this on the video.)

However, sprinklers (and hoses) are not very useful unless they are very easy to use and have a permanent water supply.

The past twelve months I’ve increased the water storage and at the same time managed my limited waters stores better.

The author digging the trench for the new water infrastructure

Water pumps are therefore crucial bits of infrastructure and also have to be protected, so I’ve added steel heat shields to these.

Whilst I was mucking around with the plumbing, I’ve also added some taps in the food forest as they provide a permanent source of water for the wildlife that lives there, but also because should the fruit trees require watering, the infrastructure is readily available.

As a strategy to deal with the extreme heat, in the past week I’ve been heavily mulching all 300+ fruit trees. The purpose of this is to keep the trees’ root systems cool and also reduce the evaporation of ground water. The mulch applied was a 50/50 mix of composted woody waste and mushroom compost. Mushroom compost is a mix of horse manure and bedding straw and thus contains useful amounts of nitrogen.

The only fruit trees which have died here so far are the very young or some that were relocated as these trees just don’t have the established root systems to effectively forage for water and nutrients in drier conditions.

The herbage under the trees in the food forest has died back. Some exceptions to this include plants of the borage family, which are companions to many fruit trees here, as well as the more ‘weedy’ species such as plantain, dandelions, cats ears and sow thistle, which all seem to be quite hardy and are providing fresh greens for the visiting wildlife.

In these hot, dry Mediterranean summer conditions dense planting is proving to be a very effective method of reducing water loss through evaporation. It has been so effective that I am going to replicate this system on a larger scale.

It has been a mixed bag really, but what is really great is that the many strategies employed here at the farm are really starting to build resilience.


  1. Excellent report and ideas. Did the cast swarm stay and have a queen. Are you feeding it, this late in the season I would be giving them a boost.

  2. Hi Rob. Thanks for the feedback. I’m still not sure whether there is a queen or not. As it has only been about a week I wanted to let them settle into the new hive before poking around in it. I put in two old frames which have pollen and drawn cells to give them a bit of a boost. Someone suggested adding a sugar syrup mix to give them a boost too. What do you reckon? The bees have been heavily foraging on the flowers and quite active, so I’m unsure. They do need to build stores for the winter though. I’d appreciate any suggestions.

    1. With a little cast swarm like that Chris I would be feeding them some 1:1 syrup at this time of year and have them in a nuc box not a full size box.

  3. Chris, thanks for the update, and the beautiful pictures! I am considering ways to lessen the impact of drought on my gardens and will keep what you have done in mind as an inspiration.

  4. Another great article Chris, I look forward to reading your updates.
    With a diverse diet, do you give your bees antibiotics? I’m thinking of getting a hive, and wondering about the antibiotics.

  5. Hi Rob. Thanks for the suggestion and I have added a tray (with sticks) and a honey water mix yesterday just under the brood box lid. The nuc box is a good idea too and I may track one down today. Thanks again.

    Hi SLClaire. Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, drought is a recurring feature here so it is great to be providing information on how various systems work in extreme conditions. Sorry to hear that you are also in drought, but with a bit of work that can be lived with. I had a close call on Sunday as I almost lost the place to bushfire:

    Gisborne + Riddells Creek fire

    Hi Andy. Thanks. No, I wouldn’t consider using antibiotics in the hives unless there was no practical alternative. Out of interest, why would you consider using them?

  6. Hi Chris, how have you fared the last few days? Was Fernglade affected by the fires? I am in Wallan and had to evacuate with our 2 kids 2 days ago. Luckily our property is ok, the fire came within a few hundred metres of our house.
    Is there any way I could contact you privately? I would love to come and see your set-up (maybe get a grand tour wink wink).
    Being in Wallan I believe we have a similar climate and similar need to be fire ready and would love to pick your brains.

  7. Thanks Chris,
    I was told that you have to feed bees antibiotics to stop them getting some kind of disease. It seemed like a bit of a bummer which is why I asked. Cheers for the tip.

  8. Hi Lachlan. Glad to hear that your property was OK. It has been a tough few days. The fire almost got into the forest here. Yeah, we should be able to arrange something. Send me a private message at the permaculture global website with your email address:

    Fernglade Farm

    Angelo’s food forest in Melbourne (Preston) is open as part of the open garden scheme this coming weekend too:

    Angelos food forest

    Hi Andy. No worries. The bees are complex, but quite low stress when compared to other livestock. To avoid disease is a case of ensuring that the hive has plenty of diverse food, good clean housing, water and try not to either relocate them or poke around in the hives too much.

  9. Gorgeous gardens and wonderful systems in place and growing too. Love the other ubiquitous sounds of summer in the latter part of the video too – cicadas!

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