In Fairy Verona Case Study : Farms With A Future

In Fairy Verona, Case Study

Farm Overview

‘In Fairy Verona’ is operated by Sandra Gauld who has been producing on the property since 2013. Located in the South-East Region of NSW, approximately 30 minutes north of Bega, this 4 hectare property has approximately 2 hectares dedicated to production.

Situated in the temperate coastal area north of Bega, annual rainfall is approximately 950mm. However the property is split in half by a steep, well-vegetated gully that hosts some subtropical plants as well as large forest red gums.  In heavy rain events this gully can be subject to erosion. The property is on the very edge of the Brogo wilderness area and so benefits from this connection with a mostly protected naturally diverse landscape.

The soils are predominantly basalt-derived, making for good annual production and dense vegetation.
Current production consist of a 0.25 acre vegetable market garden, with vegetables sold at farmers markets, some to stores, and direct to customers in boxes.  In 2015 the farm business was meat rabbits, and small amounts of vegetables and eggs.  

Future plans over the next 5 years include an expansion of the market garden to 0.3 or 0.5 acres.  In addition to the market garden, there will be eggs and hopefully goat meat production.

Background of the farm

When the property was first bought in March 2013, it was in a state of total disrepair (in terms of housing and infrastructure), not having been lived on or managed at all in the 5 years prior.  Before that there had been a market garden and poultry production.  Originally the property had been part of a much larger property (approx. 15 years before it was purchased).  It is assumed that it had previously been much more cleared and grazed as part of a dairy farm.

Over the 15 years since subdivision, the property has naturally ‘recovered’ from heavy grazing with the growth, primarily of pioneer tree species (black wattle), but also of the 6 or so other eucalypt species.  Pastures had also recovered and had a good diversity of native grasses and very few noxious weed species – apart from blackberry.  

The soils were in good condition in most parts of the property (having had only very light grazing occasionally by neighbour’s cattle)except on the hill nearest the entrance gate where they are naturally thinner anyway.  

Water retention is very good in most places because of the thick vegetation cover.  There was no evidence of erosion on the property.  However, in the last few years, due to occasional very high rainfall events, the dam – which is too small for the size of its catchment – has overflowed regularly and serious scouring in the spillway has occurred.  This is a problem that urgently needs attention to secure the water supply for the property. 

Although there has not been any water quality testing done, the expectation is that the water is of decent quality, since there is only light animal grazing, and very little erosion (if any) further up in the catchment (most of the water catchment for the dam is off the property).  There is of course increased turbidity after high rainfall events and reduced oxygenation in summer during dry times.  

At the time the property was purchased there was already some diversity in flora and fauna.  Approximately 50% of the property was cleared, the remainder is the remnants of dry sclerophyll forest / woodland, with 6 different eucalypt species and bursaria / native shrubby understory.  The vegetation in the gully attracts a range of bird life and native animals (over 25 bird species noted so far).  Neighbouring properties have planted a huge number of shrubs and trees that attract fauna, so that decent wildlife ‘corridors’ already exist.  
Changes that have been made

Since being on the property, goats, rabbits, chickens and ducks have all played a part in improving the fertility of the soils on the farm, with their poo and trampling.  

As noted previously, they are already good deep basalt-derived soils with naturally high moisture-holding capacity in a fairly high rainfall area.  And a high vegetative cover has been retained on 90% of the property.

Soils in the market garden and other garden areas on the farm (house garden, orchard) have specifically had compost added as well as other amendments (worm juice, rock minerals etc).
In order to increase water retention in the area with thinner granitic soils near the front gate there were 2 swales made on the contour in 2013.  These were then planted out with Acacia and Callistemon and other native shrubs, and they were also grassed – not entirely successfully, as it was a dry year and more should have been planted and taken care of to create the desired effect.

Some earthworks have been done to improve vehicle access and drainage away from the house, but more needs to be done to manage water flow in high rainfall events.

In the last 3 years goats have grazed lightly over 75% of the property and there has been a noticeable increase in diversity of grasses and forbs as a result of reducing the Poa dominance and added nutrient from poo.

Native shrubs and a range of fruit trees and shrubs have been planted on swales, which are still establishing.  The amount of black wattle has been reduced – for safety reasons (they tend to die off and fall over after about 10 years) and the goats have grazed them – which has then allowed other species to emerge and flourish, ie, Acacias, Eucalypts and Casuarinas.

The establishment of a 0.25 acre market garden, including some perennial herb plantings, have all helped to increase diversity.

The goats have dramatically reduced blackberry infestations by 80% over the last 3 years, and this allows the emergence of a greater diversity of plant species.

Plans for the Future

There are two main issues that need attention on the farm: water management, and; fencing for efficient stock / fertility / vegetation management.

Over the next 5-10 years, Sandra would like to see the farm properly fenced to enable efficient rotation of goats and chickens across the contour.  This would enable more stock to be run and there would be continual fertilisation of the soil and selective vegetation management in a personally and therefore financially sustainable manner (ie, not having to move multiple electric fencing every few days or weeks !).

Soils for growing annual vegetables still need more organic matter added to increase aeration and nutrient availability for microbes and plants.  This will be added continually through compost, mulch and green manuring.  Overly high water retention is a problem in the main vegetable growing area.  Recent nearby soil tests indicate that the magnesium content in the soil is way too high, which is contributing to the heaviness of the soil.  So, in addition to compost, calcium probably in the form of gypsum will be added very soon to address the magnesium excess.  Boron is also notably low, and a small amount needs to be added.

The most urgent issue is that of repairing and reworking the spillway on the dam, so that the dam wall does not completely collapse.  This is vital to the sustainability of the farm as it is the primary water storage.  Without it there would be no farm business.  

While the majority of water flow into the dam comes from neighbouring properties upstream, some water also needs to be captured on the property higher in the landscape.  This may mean the construction of another smaller dam in the next 5 years.  Whether or not a dam can be constructed big enough to store enough water so as to make it useful is something that needs further investigation.

The construction of grazing cells – well, any fencing (almost all of it is in disrepair) – on the property will be extremely advantageous to protecting some plantings from grazing animals (including wildlife), but also using the grazing animals to increase fertility and therefore diversity.  

More plantings are planned.  For example, more native shrubs on the swales to the north of the property.  Shrubs are to be planted at the top of the hill adjacent to the roadside to the SW of the property, to increase fertility in that area.  A stand of nut trees are planned on the eastern half of the property. Protection of the gully ecosystem from stock grazing is planned.

Acknowledgements: SCPA-South East Producers, South East Local Land Services, Upper Shoalhaven Landcare, In Fairy Verona
The focus for the GWD is on:
Heavy Soil Management, Water Storage Repair and Market Garden Establishment