The Gordon Gnohm

Play along at home, read Future Farmer in The Braidwood Bugle every Wednesday. 

Skywater

Hallelujah for Skywater!

There has been constant Skywater over the weekend, but my tank hasn’t filled. 

Rain is just one form of Skywater on offer in our Unpredictable Highland Climate. It comes in many forms, and I’m grateful for them all.

More than Rain

Just as the Inuits have many words for frozen water, in the highlands we have many words to describe Skywater. Dew, fog, mist, mizzle, drizzle, rain( light, fat, big, torrential), frost, sleet, hail and snow. This list is not finite, so let me know what kind of Skywater you receive at your place.

The start of the list is the most interesting, because these are the most subtle and constant sources of Skywater available to us. It hangs in the air waiting to fall.

Fog, mist and mizzle are varying degrees of cloud. Clouds are big balls of water hanging in the sky waiting to be dense enough to become rain. A lot of science, technology and money has been invested in making clouds drop rain, but men and their machines are always doing things the hard way, missing the patterns laid out in front of them for some battle royale where they apply their will to bend the laws of nature. There are easier ways. Water is already in the air we just need to collect it.

The temperature difference between the ocean and tablelands causes natural convection drawing air back and forward. The water condenses in the mountains and forms an abundance of Skywater. This Skywater can be harnessed to provide life source even in inhospitable places, with little vegetation.

Mother Nature has designed great systems to capture Skywater. Indigenous peoples understand these principles well. In the Himalayas nets are hung from the cliff walls to catch water from passing clouds. There is little vegetation on those cliffs, but where there is Skywater there is life. Simple structures are created to collect the passing moisture. 

On my property, I have an advanced collection system provided by Mother Nature. I bought a bush block, a crappy scrubby place with rubbish soil. That’s what they told me when I first moved here at the turn of the century. They would’ve laughed me out of the pub if it wasn’t for my thick skin, although I did become concerned that I may have made a mistake. So, I sat and watched and tried to understand my patch of earth. It didn’t take long to realise I was onto a good thing.

Collection of Skywater

Tree canopy exists at varying levels across my woodland block providing many benefits. A density of planting at the top of the hills means Skywater harvesting potential is excellent. The understorey is patterned with kunzea, tea tree, geebung, wattle, hakea, spotted with tall grasses, sedges and a myriad of groundcovers. If there is moisture in the night air, morning light reveals Skywater dripping from every living surface. The multistorey canopy literally makes it rain every time a cloud passes through.

Skywater is hydrating the earth but not filling my tanks because my flattish roof receives very little Skywater in these conditions. Dew and frost collection on a flat roof is better and a pitched roof would do wonders for filling tanks with mist, mizzle or fog. 

What happens if you don’t have trees dotted across your property? Fog, mist and mizzle will roll on by, keeping the water in the cloud, waiting to condense on something else, perhaps your neighbours trees or fence line.

Have you noticed that fence lines are often the greenest part of a paddock. The bit that the stock don’t eat, that can’t be mown or compacted. This little fence line microclimate is providing shade to the soil. Collecting Skywater with the long grass and wires. Slowing wind in the area. This is habitat for microbes, fungi and worms, the life force of your soil. Theres a lot to learn from that humble fence line. 

What is better than a fenceline to catch Skywater? Trees are the obvious long term solution to improving productivity in your paddock. Until then what can be done? Long grasses can collect passing Skywater, but most paddocks will be in need of a refresh so out comes the slasher. If we hit pause for a minute to consider what we will encounter in the coming months, we may just find a solution.

Wind

The wind can steal moisture more than the sun, especially in open paddocks. The N/W wind being the prevalent wind for most of us, wont stop blowing. The ridiculously hot sun in September took its toll on soil moisture too. What can we do to minimise the impact of the wind and the beating sun on our paddocks? We need a different approach, to utilise the resources at hand and create a better outcome.

What would happen if we mowed paddocks in stripes at right angles to the wind? Stripes of approx. 10-20m on a N/E to S/W axis.  Mown, unmown, mown, unmown. It may seem unproductive if you are used to mowing complete paddocks, but if you’ve never done it before, you wont need to unlearn, and itll take less time and diesel. 

The first immediate benefit will be slowing wind across the surface of the paddock reducing water loss. It won’t slow wind like a hedge row but it’s a start. The next benefit is the shadows cast by the long grass. The stripes on this axis will provide more protection against the afternoon sun but still allowing the soft morning sun full access to your growing grass. 

If big rain does come, the stripes will slow the surface water as it filters through the long grass reducing erosion by soaking. Any silt picked up across the mown section will be deposited into the grassed stripe rather than your neighbours property, or the drain on the roadside, or heaven forbid a nearby stream or river.

The microclimates created at the edges of the stripes will be more productive and create better quality feed than stressed grass struggling in a completely open paddock. The stripes dont need to be precise, infact the rougher the edge the better. These long grass stripes will provide simple protection for lambing, graziers warnings will begin to have less effect on your farming practices as you tune into your land and work with it.

After a while the long grass will get trampled by stock who enjoy the benefits of the simple shelter too. Beasts, like humans, are healthier and maintain their condition better when they have shelter from the harsh elements. Poop deposits amongst the trampled grass will provide extra microbe food, simply and with less effort. That’s a lot of benefit stacking up in your paddocks, by doing less.

Out & About

Ill be refreshing the garden at Bellchambers Produce in Fyshwick on Sat 11th

If you want to see how my No Weed Veggie Bed works, pop in and say hi. 

Demonstrations are at 10:30, 11:30 and 12:30.

Remember, every day is a school day.

Stay Awesome

The Gordon Gnohm

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