We purchased our 20 acre lifestyle property in 2004. Our journey at The Oasis is one of continual learning and personal growth and here we share some of the key lessons we have learnt so far.
Create a clear written vision for your property:
We had been looking for an affordable property with potential to grow our own food, good water and the ability to run some livestock within proximity to Inverell for over a year before we found The Oasis. At the time lifestyle property real estate was in high demand and we were conscious of not going too far into debt to make our rural lifestyle a reality. We had written down our vision of the property we were looking for and had been busy searching out and inspecting properties for some time. We came to the space where we had accepted our town living predicament and let of our fairly desperate search for a rural home for our blended family of two kids and two dogs each when the real estate agent phoned me. As he was describing The Oasis I was mentally ticking off all the boxes on our written vision list. Even better we had just the right amount of deposit saved that we would need. I believe that without creating a clear vision for the property we were looking for this one may have passed us by as I could have decided on location alone it wasn’t suitable. I also believe that things happen when they are meant to and this property came along when we had saved the exact amount of funds we needed to make it a reality. It was meant to be.
Be patient and work gradually:
When you first move into your farm and new home there is so much you want to do and it can be easy to get carried away with spending money on improvements. First priorities for us were improving our degraded soils which had been sluiced for tin mining at the turn of the 19th century, establishing vegetable gardens, garden makeovers in general, sub-division fencing to improve livestock grazing management and building housing for poultry. We kept expenditure to a minimum by recycling – electric fences made out of Angus’s old tomato trellis wire from a previous farming enterprise, recycled materials for the chook pens where possible. We sought out cost effective forms of mulch to build soil organic matter. All of these improvements are a gradual work in progress as we both work full time and this also helps to spread out costs. We do as much work ourselves as we can to save costs too which means jobs can take a while to be completed. Visitors to The Oasis always witness works in progress – sheds or renovations half built....garden projects on the go….our choice to do things gradually and in line with our cash flow. Easy to see we never get bored!!
Observation is a key:
It is a challenge to be patient and work gradually when you first buy your farm and you have so much enthusiasm & optimism for everything you are going to do. There is no way of knowing the challenges ahead of you – even if you have a thorough knowledge of agriculture and a lifetime of experience in it as we did. You often don’t know what you don’t know! Observing your site through the seasons is essential in working with nature and creating resilient systems. We planted a lot of trees and plants that we thought or were told would survive here but the extreme frosts and the poor soil fertility meant we had a lot of casualties. It is only with the benefit of time and getting to know the natural attributes of your site that you can make the best decisions on how to improve the property. A quote my husband Angus loves is “the best fertiliser is a farmers footsteps”…..
Farming is a process of lifelong learning:
We continually seek out information and inspiration online, in books and by attending alternative farming field days and incorporate our learning into how we manage our land. The key is to implement what you learn and take action. You don’t get results by just talking about it. We attended a biodynamics workshop in 2006 run by Biodynamic Agriculture Australia (BAA) which was a major influence on how we manage our land at The Oasis. We came away with the message that most people fail at biodynamics by NOT doing it. We started spreading biodynamic preparations and following the biodynamic calendar from that time on and have found this along with rotationally grazing our livestock is leading to huge improvements in soil fertility. It is a gradual process not a quick fix but it is working and in tune with nature.
Your farm is never too small:
As a land owner of any scale you are able to make a difference on any level you choose, don’t get caught in a comparison trap and use size as an excuse for not doing things on your farm. All landowners have the ability to manage their land for sustainability and food production. Even in a small urban back yard you can make a big difference. Be the change you want to see in the world! We have shown that you are never too small to improve your land by rotationally grazing livestock. It is fortunate that Angus loves fencing so much as this certainly helps make this happen. Rotationally grazing also benefits us in terms of improved livestock health, increased carrying capacity and by enabling us to minimize chemical drenches in our sheep. We enjoy ethically raised, home grown, grass fed lamb and beef as a result.
Working with nature provides the most sustainable solutions:
By mulching our soils to improve organic matter we ended up with a snail plague of huge proportions as we had provided them with an ideal habitat. Seedlings planted out would disappear overnight. We tried alternative snail remedies and then conventional snail baits all to no avail. We then decided to try ducks – we now have a beautiful flock of khaki Campbell ducks in permanent residence in the gardens at The Oasis and have had no snail problems since. We do have a few duck fences around our vegetable gardens and fish ponds but would not be without their help in managing pests and fertilising our garden.
Choose suitable enterprises:
Until drought impacted our dam water supplies we had been growing small crops of garlic for sale within our local community. The factors we took into consideration when growing our garlic were that it is well suited to our climate and soils, grows in winter when we can effectively water our sandy soils, the fact that there is a shortage of Australian grown garlic and it tastes so much better than cheap imported garlic. Being passionate about good quality local food helps as does the fact that whilst garlic is labour intensive it is possible to fit its planting, growing and marketing requirements around our work commitments. Being a product that stores well we were able to market it over several months instead of having a fresh perishable product to dispose of quickly. Marketing the garlic was the biggest challenge we found with the crop and encouraging our customers to buy in bulk and store it to secure a supply of quality local garlic is the key.
So as for our future plans for The Oasis, our written goals and vision for our property will continue to be updated as we observe and learn as we go. Patience continues to be essential as part of the gradual process happening as our property develops into our vision and we will continue to nurture our land to produce food in tune with nature.
If you are dreaming of starting your own farming lifestyle or already doing it like us I hope some of these lessons we have learnt will inspire you and I would love you to add your own experiences, questions and feedback in the comments.