Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are chickens expensive?

Keeping chickens can be expensive, especially if you have a high predator load to contend with. Or they can be expensive, in the same way you might treat a pet - forking out money for things which aren't really necessary.

The key is to find a workable balance, which meet the needs of the animal, the investor (you) and let's not forget the land and inputs. Natural resources would like a return, for expending energy, keeping your animals alive. In fact, if you ignore that last part, keeping chickens will become infinitely more expensive, as time goes by.


 Greenery, where chicken tractor used to be


Which is why I like to find as many ways as possible, to grow carbon, where I keep animals. I have a permanent coop, for most of our layers - but I also have a nifty little chicken tractor, which doubles as a fertility spreader. A broody or sick hen, will often find themselves in it.

How expensive are my chickens, when what I spend on their seed, sprouts on the lawn? Which I will slash to the ground, before planting corn into it, for spring.

If I had to spend extra money on top of their feed, without this tractor dispersing the seed they didn't eat - my chickens, and corn, would ultimately be more expensive to grow. It's how you use your animals, which can increase the return on your investment. They're still going to cost you "that" amount of money, but you've gotten more than just eggs, from the deal. You've developed a means of acquiring nature fertility, as well.

The acquisition of inputs, didn't require a trailer to cart, or petroleum to ferry either. Just two people, to lift and walk a chicken tractor, 1.8 metres, at a time.


Pea flower


Although, the seed I purchased, did come with a carbon footprint - I'm turning it back into carbon, as well. Some variety of pea has sprouted (above), also sunflowers, wheat, corn and what seems like broccolini. I've been picking the broccolini leaves, for the guinea pig too.

This is system stacking, on a small scale. It's perfect for this little strip, 12 x 3 metres, right out the back door. In some places, I'm running the tractor, back over the spouted seeds - so I'm extending the feeding capacity from the same bag of feed.

The insects which are attracted to these little forests in the lawn, is amazing too. I have a miniature prairie, at work.


Brassica flower


All those insects will contribute excrement and decaying bodies too. I've noticed a lot of lady beetles (aphid control) and predatory wasps (caterpillar control) attracted to the broccolini, bolting to seed. In winter, if you please.

Which tells me, this strip will be perfect for corn in the growing season ahead. It will get enough warmth, and thanks to my chicken fertility dispersal, enough nutrients to feed the crop.

The answer to how expensive are your chickens, is how many functions do you intend to stack around them? If it's just for eggs, they might be very expensive chickens to keep. If they're going to help you grow stuff, feed the garden or dispose of your waste, then they're actually valuable to keep. Because they save you money, in other areas.

I have a post lined up, about my permanent coops too. How I harvest the fertility from them. Having a permanent coop, and a mobile tractor though, allows more flexibility with livestock and land management.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Oranges & oranges

Our two orange trees have been in the ground, since July 2008. So they're 9 years old. Would you believe, it's taken that long to get a decent harvest?


 Citrus tree, horde - 2008


Of course, I planted those trees, before I stumbled upon permaculture. So they were planted in isolation, from most other living things. A companion tree for each, came later, and once the nearby passionfruit vine took over, it helped cool the temperatures a little more. Happy accidents, but I wouldn't treat a fruit tree now, like how those oranges began.


Leng Navel tree - last year


What I believe made a difference this year, was how I mulched the trees. It's an above ground, hugelkultur method, where a lot of woody material, and some finner ones, are placed underneath. I did it last winter (2016) so it's had a full season to breed mycelium - or the keys for tree roots, unlocking nutrients quicker.

You can see the mulching process here, with the Navel Orange, and then, with the Leng Navel. Simply, I threw a lot of different organic matter, under the trees, like a forest. The woody material, specifically plays host to a plethora of fungi, which benefits surface roots, like the citrus have. In just one year, I got a bumper crop of citrus.


Washington Navel tree - today


So much so, a lot of fruit are falling to the ground. We're eating them of course, and I even picked a bag to give our new neighbours, next door. They were the sweet Washington Navel's, which are simply divine! There can be no better tasting orange than this sweet Navel. It's supreme in my book.


Inside Washington Navel orange


The Leng Navel, was a little more tart. Maybe why it's recommended, more as a juicing orange. It's definitely got juice! Boy, do they have juice. But not as sweet as the Washington Navel. I've been eating a lot of oranges lately, and everyone in the family agrees, they were definitely worth the wait.

If you have any kind of fruit bearing tree, I would recommend this mulching strategy. The payoff for us, happened in just one year.

Are you eating any home grown fruit, this time of year?


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hugel bed update

It's time to see how my new hugelkultur beds are doing, in the middle of winter. My theory was, I could possibly grow better veg during winter, than in the killer temps of summer. Let's see how that little experiment is going...


Flowering plants


First, is the retaining wall, our hugel beds, are located on. It's the first thing we see, leaving the house, as we walk up to the hugel beds. I'm growing nasturtiums, during winter, in what is deemed a temperate climate. It's only because the block retaining wall, retains heat during winter nights.

To a lessor degree, the wall helps maintain heat in the hugel beds too. But they are raised off the ground, so the heating effect in the beds, is more due to all day sun, directly radiating the soil.


 New edition


Just behind those flowing plants, is a new wicking bed/barrel. I actually planted the federation daisy and nasturtium against the wall, in hopes they would help shade this tub, from summer heat. I've planted a blueberry in the middle, and strawberries around the edges. The mesh is to stop the brush turkeys, getting curious.

This experiment will really be tested next summer. It may not be a permanent feature, as my other wicking boxes, haven't performed all that well. More about that later though.


Hugelkultur bed 1 (HB1)

Next to the new wicking barrel, is our first hugel bed. It seems to be the lowest production bed, for some reason. It may be due to the casuarina tree leaves, I used to mulch it - as noted by Bev at FoodnStuff, having an allelopathic effect. This bed was mulched the heaviest with that particular mulch.

I have yet to harvest the sweet potatoes, but there are other things doing well, for this time of year growing in HB1.


 Wombok - or Chinese cabbage


This wombok was planted a few weeks ago, as a small seedling. Now, it's jumped out of the ground. There is beetroot, garlic, and a lone cauliflower planted nearby too. But the wombok seems to have the magic stuff, growing very quickly.

I'm also trying brussel sprouts for the first time this year too, but I've run into some problems...


The VERY hungry caterpillars


It's still winter, and I have pests eating my sprouts! I suspect it's white cabbage moth, as I've seen them flittering about. The one brussel sprout plant, which hasn't been touched, was actually planted in an ornamental shrub border, some place else.

So I must be rolling out the welcome mat, in my hugel beds. I do space the brassicas out with other veg in between, to disguise them. But it is a sunny area during winter, and any insect worth their survival salt, would scope it out. So it may always be an issue.


Thai cooking chilli


Almost ready to harvest in HB1, are chillies. I only occasionally cook with chillies, but am learning to love the subtle heat they impart. I want to try making sweet-chilli jam also, to bake in a sourdough loaf.

In the meantime, they are ripening slowly, due to not being optimal growing conditions. Chillies are much quicker producing, in the heat. But the fact it still looks healthy, is testimony to the micro-climate, the block retaining wall, helps to create.


Hugelkultur bed 2 (HB2)


Raised bed number two, is a lot more productive. I broadcast mizuna seed, saved from a plant which volunteered, in the most inhospitable place. Making it hardy seed! It was an experiment, which succeeded, perhaps a little too well?

I'm actually beginning to understand what northern hemisphere gardeners speak about, when they say "spacing" is important for production. I've only dealt with heat before, mainly planting in the warmer months. Spacing close together, prevents evaporation and enables plants to survive. They have plenty of heat and sunlight to make them grow.

But during winter, with cooler soil and less sunlight - spacing wider apart, allows plants to reach their full potential.


Tatsoi (dark green) Mizuna (light green)


As an example, I rescued these tatsoi plants, from the mizuna, strangling them. They grew lanky in the middle, to reach the light. But the lower leaves didn't stand a chance, reaching sun - subsequently, becoming dwarfed.

Still very edible in our stir-fry though, but we lost production on these slower growing plants. Mizuna is a faster grower.

It took me a while to like the mizuna. When first eaten raw, I didn't like it. The peppery flavour was unpalatable in large doses. But then I discovered it's best eaten as part of a salad (like rocket) or to jazz up scrambled eggs. It's even great in making stock, or stirred through casseroles. It's extremely versatile as a flavour enhancer. With something this productive, I was GOING to learn to use it!


Perennial vegetables, mixed with annual


Still in HB2, is some curly leaf kale, oregano and more wombok. I'm treating the kale, as a perennial, to see how long I can harvest leaves for. There is one kale plant in this bed, and another in HB1.

The poor wombok will be starved for sunlight though, from all that mizuna. I will thin it out, to create more sunlight for it. Having so much greenery around though (yes Mizua - I'm talking to you) can be a real blessing. Because I have plenty to pull up for the chickens. While mizuna isn't their favourite leafy green to eat - they still eat it. So I'm getting eggs from my windfall of mizuna too.


Sun-kissed coriander


I did say, this particular bed was productive. I have some coriander, making a welcome appearance, also from seed. I love coriander in my cooking. It's probably the best time of year to grow in this particular area too - because as soon as the heat arrives, it will bolt to seed. At least, that has been my experience, in this location.

I'm learning quite a few things from this area, like what does well, and what doesn't; more importantly though - in which season. All valuable stuff, if you want to eat what you grow, year round - in the space you have available. Each niche for a plant, has a different growing environment.


Tiny teeth


The brussel sprouts in HB2, didn't escape the white cabbage moth either. Although, it's been attacked less aggressively, than in HB1. It must be all that mizuna, throwing them off!

I can see why people net their brassicas, because there may not be anything left of my brussel sprouts, soon.


Nice to chia


I went a little crazy with seed in autumn. I cleared out a lot of packets, which were either too old, or would be, if I let them go another season. So I broadcast them around the hugel beds. One of the things to surprise me recently, was chia!

It popped up beside HB2, and looked a little like Lanta at first. Lucky it wasn't pulled, but I was expecting some surprise seedlings, which is why I waited to see what would emerge. Well, it's beautiful blue flowers, have brightened up the garden, for the first time. Which also tells me, I should be able to collect fresh seed, to plant them again.


 Wicking box 1


Now, to some not so great experiments. Just opposite our hugel beds, is another block retaining wall. I've used this to set-up wicking boxes. Which I'm sad to say - in comparison to the hugel beds, has not done very well. All the plants seemed to dwarf, never reaching their full potential - despite the fact they had access to water.


 Green tomatoes


I did manage a few small harvests though. Like these volunteer tomatoes, which came up from the compost added. I'll save the seed, because they won't taste very nice without the warm temperatures to ripen them. We also managed a small harvest of peas, which Peter really enjoyed! Plus some spring onions too.

Nothing else was really edible though. Not even the rubarb. I'm mean, rubarb! Those suckers should have enormous leafs to help sustain them. But no. Only small, lanky leafs, which looked half-starved. It wasn't fair to rob any of the plants, their leaf matter, which was barely keeping them alive. I've had a dig around though, and I suspect the problem is beetle larvae.

I've had this before, in my ornamental container plants. Beetles are attracted to the heat in the containers, and don't get any competition from other soil dwellers. When the larvae emerge, they prune the roots, and stunt the plants.

Not to worry though...I have a plan!


New hugel bed (HB3)


I'm replacing the wicking boxes, with more hugelkultur beds. This is a new hugel creation (#3) finished a few weeks ago. It's lower in height than the other two, but still completely adequate.

The plan is to transplant what I can, from the wicking boxes (next to it) and carefully pull the boxes apart. The chickens should enjoy the feast of beetle larve, I harvest, and then move the boxes to build another hugel bed. Four beds! Now I'm excited.

The terracotta pot (above) will be between the two new beds. I'll see how it goes, attracting beetle larve. I may be able to plant ginger, as I've not had problems with beetle larva invading those particular pots before.


 Morning dew


Overall, my winter garden is more productive than the opposite spectrum, of my summer one. There are less pests and less heat stress, but it has to be mitigated by using different plant spacing, to optimise production. That was a truly new lesson for me to experience. I've read about it before, but not experienced it first hand.


So in summary:

  • Block-walls and hugel beds, create micro-climates for winter growing
  • Casuarina tree leaves, may not be good for mulching annuals
  • I still get pests in winter
  • Wider spacing is important when growing in cooler weather
  • Success with seed broadcasting, saved from hardy volunteer plants
  • Learn to cook with productive plants, I may not initially like
  • Beetle larvae, may prevent my ability to use enclosed wicking boxes
  • Some crops may deter beetle access, thus, better suited to containers
  • I am capable of more production, during autumn/winter, using different techniques

So what is your most successful winter crop, or most challenge in the winter garden?


Monday, July 3, 2017

Thank you

Thank you for all the kind comments, regarding the passing of our pet cat. There are much less tears now, and acceptance without feeling guilty. Although, the reason I have been absent from my blog of late, is because I have a cold/flu. Actually, we all have it!

During my sabbatical however, I received notification that my former free Photobucket account, is now requesting $400 per annum, to share my photos with third parties - in this case, my blog.




If you see that annoying image from Photobucket, from any post during 2008 - 2014, you now know why. I'm either going to have to upload six years worth of photos (again) to other free photo hosting sites, or consider starting my blog, completely from scratch.

Either task will be an undertaking, better started when I'm well. Have any of you been hit with the same problem, due to Photobuckets recent change in policy?

As far as problems go, these are really minor ones. More an inconvenience than anything else. The passing of time, some rest, laughter and regular cups of warm cocoa, will see us all through.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sad Saturday

RIP, Muesil, 24 June 2017


It was an ordinary day, like any other. Until it wasn't. After a bizarre set of circumstances yesterday, we sadly had to have our cat euthanased. It's too difficult to talk about, in more detail. Other than to say we love her and miss her, after four and a half years, in our lives.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Urban Garden Tour

I use to live on an 800 sqm block in suburbia, but when I came to live on our five acres, I had to learn how to garden in a whole different way. Scale and exposure changes everything. But I still find learning about creative gardening in smaller spaces, helpful in my bigger picture landscape

So I wanted to share a video I found recently, from a channel called, "From seed to spoon". It's a small backyard in Oklahoma (US) and they're using the existing infrastructure, to help select sites for growing plants in different seasons.

I thought it was really interesting, as I'm sure a lot of people find it challenging to grow large, in small spaces. There are often too many shadows, where plants won't thrive, or excessive radiant heat, which could bake plants instead of growing them. But if you observe your environment, and change how you're growing things to meet those conditions, success is inevitable.






I hope you enjoy watching this video, and let me know if you're following any of this advice already? Or what have you learned about gardening in your own challenging conditions, to succeed?


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dividing

One of my favourite ways to propagate, is dividing an existing plant. You don't have to worry about roots striking, or death by transpiration. It's just breaking down, one big plant, into a number of smaller ones.

I did this, back in April, when I needed to stablise the earth around our new water tank.


Before


After


Three, Purple, Pygmy Grasses, became six! Very easy to do. But not all divisions are that straight forward! Take Lemon Grass, for example...

I wrestled to dig up, 2 established clumps, which had grown in red clay. It took me three hours!! Not just to dig up, but to divide into numerous other plants. Boy, those suckers are tough!


First hugel-bed (foreground) second bed (background)


You can sure bet, when you're taking that long to dig up and divide a plant, you're going to make it extend as much as possible. From two plants, I now have nine, large clumps. Plus, a few more smaller ones, which fell off the main clump. They were put into pots. In total, I expect to get 13 clumps, out of just two plants.

The purpose of dividing the Lemon Grass, was to provide more mulching material, in our troubled, north facing slope. It's clay, it gets sun all year and it needs MORE chop and drop material, than the former two clumps provided.


Third hugel-bed (background)


Knowing how bad the clay was, we decided to suck up, more of our fallen and felled trees, into hugelkultur mounds. David and I are getting real good at building these now. We've constructed 3 separate beds on our north facing slope, to hold the clumps of lemon grass.

You can see in the above image, we also used the tree bark, from the large eucalyptus trees, we had felled, last year. This was to prevent brush turkey's from digging up our new mounds. It will also make temporary lizard habitat, before the grasses grow in again.

We've had so much material from those two trees, and we still haven't used it all up.


Lemon grass re-shooting


When on acreage, everything has to be done to scale. Two clumps may be perfect for a block in town, but for a 40 metre stretch of land, you need a lot more plants, to cover that ground. Even at 13 plants, it still won't be enough. So I'm looking at dividing up another clump, at the end of the vegetable patch.

I'm propagating some more shrubs by cuttings, which I also use for chop and drop material. But I love the simplicity of just being able to divide a clump of something, instead. You can plant them straight away, and have your garden growing quicker.

Do you have a favourite clumping plant, you like to divide, for more? They don't have to be grasses, they can be berry canes, or plants which multiply by runners (ie: strawberry).