A little bit of a sleep in this morning but the students are so keen that they voted to pass up on the regular full mid-PDC day off, hungry to continue the un-learning journey here at Ridgedale. I’ve never been to a PDC where the rest day was bypassed… these kids are keen! Some even took a stroll down to the lake to watch the sunrise and have a dip, a very popular recreation activity here on the farm.
One of the new farm managers Aliza kicks the day’s teaching off with a class in food preservation and fermentation. We run a breakdown of spoilage such as physical (smashing), physiological (oxidising), chemical, mechanical, etc. We focus on microbial fermentation (bacteria, yeast and fungi) to look at foods such as cheese, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha.
Georg and Steffi assist our inspiring guest speaker Aliza with preparations for our sauerkraut
We practice an osmotic change with cabbage to produce sauerkraut and check in on one of the students ‘special’ yeast + Ridgedale apple cider recipes that is slowly bubbling away in the timber shed. There is considerable interest as to whether this particular recipe will be ready by the coming Friday evening.
Darren feeds breakfast to the Sourdough starter
Handy hint: if you dry anything to 20% of it’s weight, that should be enough to preserve it for years…. wow! Loving these little tid-bits. Of course if you’re interested in this, you should definitely check out Wlid Fermentation – The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
Richard takes the class through plant propagation, grafting and cuttings with some other helpful tips on bedding and multiplying your root stock. “You can turn many plants into a couple of hundred in an hour, just from cuttings.” Plants like Comfrey can be divided very easily and serve multiple functions as garden edging to retard running grasses, a dynamic accumulator & potent ingredient to compost and compost teas, and as a herbal supplement in teas. Back home at Bellbunya Sustainable Community, we’ve utilised all three of these functions but also planted the Comfrey along the front edges of our chicken fodder beds which are placed along the edges of the large runs. The chooks are big fans of comfrey leaves, and it’s roots also dig and break up the heavily, compacted clay soils so we can continually expand and add to the fodder beds over time.
I always loved layering, it’s a favourite technique of mine, and Richard explains the method before moving on to air layering, a strategy employed widely in the tropics for rapid fruit tree propagation. One of the advantages, and another handy tip is when it’s time to remove the section, make the cut some extended distance behind the new root mass so that when you plant the air layered cutting it will have a ‘tail’ below it’s new root system to help stabilize it in the ground.
In front of the main house is a temporary nursery for some of the varieties of fruit, nut and other trees being grown, grafted and/or bedded for next year’s season. Crouched amongst the new growth Richard explains how the selection of your root stock will determine the trees size and soil suitability as well as resilience to pests and disease. The scion, or cutting to be grafted to the root stock, will determine the characteristics of the fruit.
Grafting techniques are explained, including Richards favorite ‘cleft’ grafts, which will give the healed graft a lot more stability and strength as opposed to a typical splice. We even look at the T-bud method which is commonly used and often forms part of disease resistance research in parts of Europe. Richard warns against bringing trees into new area without considering the potential consequences, especially in terms of disease and pests.
Looking at different methods of grafting Richard shares an insight, “it’s worth just playing around with plants because they can do things that you just can’t imagine. There’s some rule and a lot of knowledge & information at our fingertips, but often people say “You can’t do this or that” and someone says, ”Well, I just did and it worked so”… it’s worth just trying stuff.” This is the recurring message of any of the systems we are learning about, from grafting to garden design to edges and animal management; consider all the information available, and then just do something, see what works and what doesn’t for yourself, in your unique time, place & circumstance. How would we have managed to see ‘Fruit Salad Trees’ without the playful experimentation of others? We hear about novel architectural grafts by the likes of Axel Erlandson and how herbaceous plants are widely grafted for disease resistance in places like Japan & China (often curcubits)
Stacked along the Ridgedale entrance drive are logs of Alder which have been inoculated with various types of mushroom spores. The logs themselves were gratefully sourced from one of the neighbours forests and our riparian strips, cut to size and then prepared as part of the previous internship. The various tools are demonstrated and we learn how mushroom spores can travel into the upper atmosphere and survive to colonize elsewhere, particularly successful along the lines of latitude where daylight length is the same and vegetation is likely similar.
Channelling Paul Stamets, Richard explains how the fungi inherited the earth twice as a result of cataclysmic meteorite events. Dust particles hit the atmosphere, blocking out the sun, and surface plants all die, which means that fungi is delivered a lot of food in the form of decaying organic matter. “So at that point in history if you had an association with a fungi as a plant, you were selected for big time, and everything else probably suffered or died.”
We hear about the mycelial fungi network and the difference between this species and saprophytic mushroom that specifically eat dead material and live their whole life in an organism before sending out their highly mobile spores into the atmosphere where the can survive for thousands of years. “Very effective colonisers” explains Richard. “Fungi send out their little hyphae, they read what organisms are in the soil developing anti-bodies as they go. They’re like a neural network. There has been recorded studies of water and nutrient being passed from Alder, which is a pioneer tree, fungi passing water and nutrient up the scale of succession to things like Douglass Fir, which is a higher order tree. That is fundamentally against the world view that we’ve been brought up in; sharing your resources with other organisms for the benefit of all; it's like the fungi are cheering on succession."
My fellow farm manager Kate delivers a presentation on Livestock Welfare after lunch, helping us comprehend the various categories of animals and how they developed from their wild counterparts and how understanding patterns can assist producers to manage their stock. Things like looking at the physical and social well being of your animals. We see that domesticated animals’ needs are much like humans with environmental conditions at the top over plants above habitat and finally diet. The interesting thing is that if you look at say a cow’s diet you can determine it’s requirements moving up the scale (diet = grasses, habitat = woody pasture, plant community = trees and grasses, environment = semi-shaded, open, sunny field)
I had never heard of stotting but I now know it directly relates to an individuals’ fitness, directing predators to choose prey but also to allow the herd to follow each other in a chase situation. I also now know that animals have a top three requirements list: consume, reproduce, don’t die, - humans apparently took care of the last one by killing any of our predators and wiping out the rest of the competition.
We look at the definition of domestication – “a sub section of a population…. bred to an extent that it is physically or behaviourally different from it’s counterpart” – and then start listing domesticated species. Breaking these down into carnivore, omnivore and herbivore – only carnivore we have domesticated are small in size, cat’s for vermin control, which can feed itself –so they got away with being carnivore based on their usefulness. This is then further categorized by their diet, prey response (who’s predator and who’s prey).
We look at the aspects of ancestry that have developed the domesticated animals embraced in today’s agriculture methods and the ways in which a cow’s heritage suggests they have a large ability to cope with different environments.
Afternoon tea arrives along with some neighbors that have paid us a visit, their first one to the property. I show them around all we are doing, showing them our world record rice experiment, the animal management systems using holistic planned grazing and relate the extraordinary efforts and support we have received from our other neighbors and local businesses. They are very interested in what we are doing and say they are keen to return for the next open day and to order some of the Willow coppice once it’s ready.
By the time I reach the class room Richard is well into a presentation featuring Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, discussing regenerative agriculture, mobile slaughterhouses, the benefits of running meat rabbits and the major advantages of having incredibly strong community relations if some government agency decides, for nothing more significant than bureaucratic bumbling , to try and close you down, “when you have that connection with your community you’re protected.” Strength from social capital and common unity!
As with all of Richard’s presentations, the tour of Polyface Farm in the U.S. is backed by high quality images, mountains of data, extraordinary tales and comprehensive explanations on many aspects of the project and how it relates to the site on which we now stand. You can see Richard’s inspirations all over Ridgedale, from the chicken mobile (a.k.a. the Bison) to the Keyline patterning in the fields, from his advocacy of Holistic Management to his relationship with his students.
You want super food? This is nothing short optimum nutrition for your brain, your learning and your professional career. I am looking forward to carrying the work I have seen here with me back to Australia, where some day others will visit and see the inspiration of Richard and Ridgedale in my fields.
Like us on FB Below for regular updates
Stay up to date with customized updates you want to receive