Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Earthworks Practicum

The gentle pattern left by keyline ploughing

Walking across the paddock was like walking on a firm sponge: the earth was so soft, it had such give in it, it had no resemblance to hard concrete. If you played footy, you'd be wanting to fall on this stuff. This is what keyline ploughing will do to your land. It will decompact the soil and allow air and water to penetrate. Healthy soil.

I visited Darren Doherty and Lisa Heenan's block near Bendigo for an earthworks practicum. This week, with a group of eager students, he'll be adding a new dam, access roads, drainage ditches and house, cabin and tank sites. I only had the chance to go for one day, and I took it. So I didn't actually get to see any earth moved.

However, I did learn the theory behind earthworks, including more information on keyline design, and get to have my questions answered. Then we headed out to the 22 acre block that has already been keyline ploughed twice in a few years. A keyline plough, the Yeomans' Plow, cuts the earth and so loosens it slightly. It is ploughed just off contour, encouraging rainfall to penetrate the earth rather than run off. It is ploughed just off contour so the water is directed more to the ridge rather than straight to the valley. Which is where it will end up eventually. While walking, I stepped on the access road which hasn't been ploughed and it was your typical hard soil. The rest of it has a wonderful soft feel to it.

Darren Doherty and Ben Falloon have come up with some crazy additions to create the Keyline Super Plow. Check out their clip on deep cultivating/compost tea/biofertiliser/seed planter in one hit.

Darren Doherty and earth mover

While on the block, we did some surveying, marking out the drainage from one dam to a new dam, a sill spillway for the overflow, the new dam high watermark. Then the access road, which will collect water and direct it to the dam. This is what permaculturalists do: the design of the whole system where one element supports many functions. Then we marked out the house site. By this stage, my nose was freezing off in the Central Victorian late afternoon air. We headed back as the sun was setting.

I had to head back to Melbourne that night for work the next day, but first enjoyed yet another wonderful meal at Darren and Lisa's home in Bendigo. I'm looking forward to seeing what it all looks like when Darren posts the video.

Even though I've only got five acres to play with in the King Valley, I'll be able to use my new found knowledge. That's even if I stop eyeing of the relative's place on the other side of the creek for what can be done there. One disappointment, though, was I won't be able to plough the land until Autumn: that's the best time in our region for the keyline plow. That will hydrate the landscape. Once the hydrating has begun, I can then build small dams, access roads and perhaps a site for a house, shed or classroom.

The impact of keyline ploughing: neighbour vs Darren's block