Lana Tyacke, the powerhouse behind Tenterfield’s new farmers market, is relatively new to the area. What she has achieved on her 46 acre block in the past 10 months, however, would put most of us to shame.
An unfortunate bout of illness laid her up for a couple of years, but she put that downtime to very good use. She earned a permaculture design certificate and researched countless online sources of information on sustainability and permaculture in practice.
While some of the climate-specific information she gleaned won’t be applicable here, she’s happy and willing to filter down to the relevant material and share that with anyone who’s interested. Farm tours and workshops on her own property 15 minutes west of town on Bruxner Way are on the cards, so people can see for themselves how she is implementing the principles she has studied.
She already has a flourishing quarter-acre of market garden (established over a Tenterfield winter, no less), where prudent use of row covers allowed crops to germinate in the cool weather, ready to spring into action with the recent burst of warmth. Samples of the onions, beans, spinach, kale, rocket, silverbeet, carrots, radish and her special ‘stirfry’ mix of tatsoi, kale and cabbage will be included in the upcoming farmers markets.
She also has a large planting of Giant Russian garlic which she will save as seedstock, destined for a one acre planting of garlic next season.
The walkways are narrow to minimise the area of land under garden, and the ground was ripped only once to allow the application of basalt dust and biodynamic compost poured down the rip lines. From now on it won’t be cultivated, the roots of the harvested plants will remain in the ground and crops will be fertilised with a compost tea, all in the pursuit of a healthy soil food web: a well-balanced, natural system that is self-sustainable.
Lana believes synthetic pesticides and weedicides upset that balance, with an unbalanced system breeding its own problems.
“If you put in the biology that’s missing to rebuild the soil food web and a diversity of beneficial insect plants, you don’t need pesticides,” she said.
“An unhealthy plant signals its stress, and that brings in the pests as nature’s garbage collectors as well as disease. All of this comes from an unhealthy soil and an incomplete soil food web.”
Diversity is the name of the game
Alongside the market garden – with only a few runs of electric tape as a barrier – are two young Saddleback sows who are playing their part by ploughing up the next patch of land. Lana said once they’ve devoured the softer grasses they turn over the love grass in search of the roots, ploughing out this blight on many local pastures.
Beyond the pigs are a couple of dairy cows with calves at foot, and alongside the house is a chicken run, again contained by electric fencing to keep predators out rather than keeping the chickens in. While the other livestock respect the electric fence once they’ve encountered it, Lana said the pigs are constantly testing it. Around the pig run a power failure or some other problem will become obvious in as little as 20 minutes, whereas the fence isn’t even turned on for the cattle.
Lana hooks up the chicken fence to the solar-powered energiser each evening once the hens have gone to roost. She learned her lesson from the one night she neglected to do so, and lost four hens to a quoll.
One of the first tasks when she and partner Rob moved in was to rejuvenate a neglected orchard, so apples, apricots, peaches, chestnuts and quinces will eventually be on the menu, and that’s just the fruits she’s discovered so far.
The couple embrace the recycle/repurpose/reuse philosophy. The donation of some small round exercise trampolines will be converted into a smoker, and a mobile chicken coop is being constructed of spare parts.
Diversity is the primary aim. Lana is planning to create swales throughout the farm – comprising trees, mid-level plantings and groundcovers – to divide up the property while working with its contours. The plan is to then rotationally graze livestock through the corridors (cattle followed by sheep, pigs, chickens, etc), each contributing to the makeup of the soil.
Lana said ideally in this climate it would be nine months before a species rotated back to the same patch of ground, thereby breaking any disease and parasite cycles, which eliminates the need for drenching. She concedes that this can be difficult, however, on small farms.
Lana sees great opportunities in partnerships between aging landholders perhaps unable to work their land, and keen potential farmers without the means to purchase land for their endeavours. Some sort of sharefarming arrangement – perhaps including a number of sharefarmers each enjoying their own speciality – could be mutually-beneficial.
It’s a win for the farmer, land, stock and profitability,” she said.
“Diversity is key in any system, and stacking functions is beneficial for all.
“The sharefarmers could make some money off the land, and save some for a deposit on their own place. There’s a lot of potential for collaboration.”
She is a great believer in food security, if not by producing it yourself then at least by minimising the ‘food miles’ the produce has travelled.
Lana has ‘massive’ plans for her property all based on permaculture principles, but realises it can’t all be done at once and is taking a phased approach. She sees permaculture relating not only to gardening but on a larger scale to communities and their power and water resources, along with flood mitigation and drought-proofing.
“It doesn’t take much to take out a food system,” she said.
“Even when our food is trucked in, how resourceful are we when the trucks stop?”
Being more self-sufficient makes us richer, healthier and happier, she said. Who wouldn’t want that?