My winter farming challenges.

It has been about 6 months since starting up my plot on top of Willunga Hill. I started in late November 2014, a time of heat, dry soils and fast growing plants. Fast forward to now and winter is in full swing. I have farmed from summer to winter before and experienced the difference between the two seasons. But for me, this year, on top of these hills, the summer/winter contrast is even more stark. 

This write up is a break down of some of the challenges I am facing this winter. Im really drawn to start sharing all of my experiences, not just the beautiful edited photos I take and share on Instagram and Facebook. 

 Those days that it is sunny on the plains whilst raining on the hills.

When the first signs of winter appeared, I quickly realised there would be days I would have to leave behind the beloved sunshiny plains where I had farmed last year, to ascend into the rain clouds. I am a hot weather lover through and through, so this realisation made me shudder a bit in disappointment. The more time I spend away from the little available winter sun the moodier I tend to get. So this early discovery hadn't left me in great spirits for my first winter growing on the hill.

 Sunny day in the plains rainy day in the hills. This particular day the cloud on the range did clear up within a few hours. 

Sunny day in the plains rainy day in the hills. This particular day the cloud on the range did clear up within a few hours. 

 So much rain makes so much bogginess.

 Those rain clouds that sit on top of the hill aren't just sitting there, they are usually creating a constant light drizzle with intermittent showers. So much constant rain made so much more wetness than what I was expecting! The lower part of the farm quickly became so boggy that crops began to struggle. Their growth slowed down because of the cold and slowed even further because they have their roots constantly in too much water.  

 The waterlogged part of the farm. Wet paths try and steal our gumboots!

The waterlogged part of the farm. Wet paths try and steal our gumboots!

Too waterlogged to weed

Another challenge with waterlogged soil is that it is virtually impossible to weed. The hoes don't work efficiently at cutting the weeds off from their base and if you try and hand weed too much soil stays attached to the roots. There has been no choice but to leave the weeding until the ground drys up a bit.

 Waterlogged soil makes it extremely hard to weed. 

Waterlogged soil makes it extremely hard to weed. 

Discovering new pests 

Three weeks ago I realised my next fresh crop of silverbeet wasn't looking so flash. I found silvery marks on its leaves. After researching and receiving help from the local growers collective. I found that I have a bad case of red legged earth mite! I didn't know what they were until then. But I discovered they are a sap sucking little mite that lives in the soil, becomes active in the early winter and feeds on leaves. This mite particularly loves to live in Cape Weed, and there is a lot of that growing where I am farming. 

 Silvery marks cause by red-legged earth mite  

Silvery marks cause by red-legged earth mite  

If you'd like to read a bit more about the red-legged earth mite here is a brief profile of them. The are very common and they may be affecting your crops too. 

http://www.herbiguide.com.au/Descriptions/hg_Redlegged_Earth_Mite.htm

This is a video i quickly made to show you the redlegged earth mites on my silverbeet. Usually they will leap back onto the soil when disturbed like this. so they can be hard to identify.

Every winter I rediscover I have terrible circulation.

I don't have the best peripheral circulation, I never really have.  Occasionally the cold just over takes my extremities and the blood doesn't quite get everywhere it should. It's mornings like this that stepping out onto a freezing farm feels particularly difficult.

 Strange lack of blood circulation in my fingers. 

Strange lack of blood circulation in my fingers. 

Solutions

The hills are never going to be the warm haven I always crave in the winter. So this is one issue I'll always have to face head on. I just need to get better at rugging up and waterproofing myself. It is always much colder and wetter up the hill. 

I know now for next year to avoid the bottom 10-12 beds after April. All crops should be out of those beds by then and ill perhaps trial a cold hardy winter cover crop in that space. This could then be tilled into the soil the next spring.  

The red legged earth mites' population may be able to be controlled a bit if measures are taken early in their breeding season. I will research this timing more. I have started trialling eco oil to control the population. Next year ill also avoid growing the crops that they obviously favour (silverbeet, spinach and rainbow chard) and grow the crops (brassicas and others) they are so far avoiding. 

If I want particular crops to grow with more speed, I can implement floating row covers. These would create a warmer environment to speed up crop growth. 

 

 Crops crawling through the winter cold. Still a picture of beauty.

Crops crawling through the winter cold. Still a picture of beauty.

 The importance of knowing your land and proper planning.

As a student of permaculture this reminder is of utmost importance and one I'm sure I'll never stop learning. I started farming on this plot in a rush. I needed a new patch to continue my business and there were many things I didn't research and set up correctly because of this. Most of these issues could have been avoided had I been more aware and informed of my environment.  

Now that I have had these experiences, next year will be a different story for me and this plot of land. 

So much learning 

I love this learning, because sometimes no matter how many times you hear something, or even how well you conceptually understand it, it is not until you are seeing it and experiencing it, that whatever it is, becomes a reality.  

The greatest lesson overall for me, is that only when you dedicate to something, can you really reap rewards. I have been avoiding settling down here and running my own farm for years. I always thought there was probably something better somewhere else. I found this mindset was just a distraction that lead me to feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I am now running my own business and able to support myself from it, and i wouldn't have it any other way.