Working the land in Tasmania

One of the first projects we got really excited on Workaway, when we started looking for places to volunteer during our around-the-world belated and extended honeymoon trip, was Tiger Hill Farm. Paul Kean, the owner of the property, was a little surprised at our email as it came more than a year ahead of time (we might have been slightly over-eager). However, that gave us the opportunity to Skype once or twice and confirm that our time in Australia would include a few weeks in Tasmania. All thanks to this project. So exciting!

As it turns out, our time at Tiger Hill Farm was shared with a few other wonderful volunteers: Barry the farmer turned massage therapist (close enough, right Barry? ha – just kidding, he’s a muscle activation therapist) from Indiana, Mathias a fellow Swiss trained as a tinsmith (metalworking) and in woodworking, and Trixi the artist and absolute free spirit from Australia (she tattoos herself, how badass is that?!).

On our first day, we got a tour of the property which outlined Paul’s impressive vision for Tiger Hill Farm. His number one objective is to make the land drought resistant. This will be achieved by a network of swales, dams, and overflow systems that are mostly in place but still being refined. Set on a series of hills (including Tiger Hill, from which the farm gets its name), the property has a large house near which are the toolshed, garden shed, and vegetable garden developed following the principles of permaculture. All the more appropriate given that Tasmania is the birth place of permaculture, and where Bill Mollison – one of the founders of the school of permaculture – was from. In the future, a natural swimming pool might be added to the mix.

A little higher on the hill, a small cabin with a wood stove – that’s where we stayed; and on top of the hill, a large bathing house with a few drafts compensated by very hot water heated by a rocket mass water heater (a super-efficient wood-burning setup) as well as a larger dorm-style accommodation that can sleep up to 16 volunteers.

The kind of work we did varied quite a bit. Francois and I spent a lot of time revamping a “pumpkin patch” so the structure held better, the soil got additional compost and green manure (organic fertilizer which was a mix of things like guano, sulphate, seaweed, gypsum, and more), and adding wooden planks to give the beds more definition. The end result was informally dubbed “The Cramooz Tunnel of Love” (see photos below).

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BEFORE: the pumpkin patch 1.0

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AFTER: the pumpkin patch 2.0, aka the Cramooz Tunnel of Love

I also learned to chop wood (harder than you might think!), make a square compost heap so it can be built up more (the traditional approach is often just a pile), and use a drill.

With Trixi’s help we made planter boxes from reclaimed wood, structures combining a box full of soil to plant things in and a wind-breaker which can also serve as a support for climbing plants. They were added to the end of existing beds as protection from the wind and for esthetic purposes. My favorite were the ones with the lavender plants – beautiful, great smell, and a haven for bees.

Another project we worked on was fitting the garden shed so it could house garden tools (which used to be in the crowded toolshed), which is where all that drilling came in.

It was also fascinating to see Barry and Mathias work on building a pantry and windows/doors for the outside kitchen to make it more weather-proof. Francois got to work with them here and there, developing his woodworking skills.

On rainy days, we focused on indoor projects: baking bread, making yoghurt, reorganizing the library. Bread making was incredibly fun. We experimented with regular and rye flour, various types of seeds (poppy, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), classic bread loaves and focaccia. It turns out it’s very easy to make bread but a little harder to make tasty bread. One of our loaves (using pure rye flour) was so dense and heavy that it was only edible if soaked in soup! Oops.

Making yoghurt was easier than expected. We used some store-bought Greek yoghurt as a starter and based ourselves on a rather vague recipe from a self-sustainable homesteading book. After leaving our mixture overnight, we had 3L of yummy home-made yoghurt based on about $5 worth of ingredients.

During our stay, it rained more than the soil could handle so there was a lot of mud and frustration stemming from the number of outdoor projects we had waiting to get done. On the plus side, I saw more rainbows in our two weeks at Tiger Hill than ever before in my life! We also spotted quite a few wallabies at night, hopping around hoping we had left the gate to the garden open so they could indulge in a midnight feast (no such luck).

We left a little earlier than planned to make sure we would have time to go discover more of Tasmania. That was the right decision, but if you want to know why you’ll have to wait for the next post!