Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Making Mandala's

moved the chickens again today.  a really exciting thing to do really.  it means that not only are we putting the chooks on fresh grass but that what has been left behind is ready to be made into a new bed.  it seemed to be a good time to review the past six months and the process we've gone through.   review is good for the newbie and good for us, because we've made mistakes along the way and the goal is to always grow and learn from that.

so let's start with the goal.  to create a series of keyhole garden beds that are not just functional, but beautiful as well.  in the true sustainable fashion they had to be easy to establish, easy to maintain and assist in getting us to a closed loop nutrient and gardening system.

so here is the goal ....

 six round keyhole beds .... borders of lavender and comfrey (great weed inhibitors!) 
we currently have nasturtium and marigolds planted in these beds, along with 
hyssop and borage as bug confusers.  
thee purple triangle beds have been built to enhance that bug confusion with more
gorgeous flowering plants that confuse bugs and attract great pollinators.  
the goal?  to utilize a geodesic dome and rotate our plymouth rock chooks around 
the beds, creating and reinvigorating beds as they scratch through bugs 
and deposit yummy manure for plant nutrition.

where to start?

this is where we started.  a single round circle that we put our chooks on.  we measured area's, not exact, but approximate, to decide where we should plant.  we knew we would start with the middle circle, so getting that placement is imperative.  we have continued to use this spare circle as we've gone around to help us gauge spacing.  and it's also kinda fun to see where the next bed will go.  the other thing we've done is that the kids have to do poop patrol and occasionally get a wheelbarrow of  cow pats that our calves deposit and put them in the the next circle.  it biodegrades well and the chooks love digging through and spreading it out.

bring on the chooks!

 this is our fort knox geodesic dome.  we lost 4 of 12 chickens to a fox / ferral one night out of greenhorn ignorance.  but we modified our dome and this does the trick.  a chicken mesh skirt covered by corrugated iron and bricks.  also begins the process of killing off the grass for when it's time to lay down the mulch.

so we'll go backwards now to see how the beds have developed.

this is our latest bed.  heaps of newspaper around the outside of the circle (helps to have a newsagent as a good friend for cast off newspaper!).  this is covered with a generous amount of mulch (another freebie from a council mulching!) the straw is infused with manure .... the chickens had been scratching through it for a few weeks.  more straw has been added and the bed will be allowed to sit for a few weeks as the straw starts to decompose.  we'll put pockets of compost / good earth on this soon and do some serious winter veg!

this bed has been going for about two months.  we have a pea macrame at the back, 
numerous broccoli, cavelo nero and my favorite .... broad beans!

and this is our first bed .... it was started about 4 months ago.  
We've had serious crops of snake beans, spinach, eggplant, okra and our ongoing 
favorite, kang kong (filipino spinach).  
gotta love the gorgeous array of colour.

one of the things we learned with this first bed was that we really needed to build it up higher before planting.  the beds breakdown fast, which is great for building up the soil, but means that we haven't had much depth to start growing things in. so, in the normal scope of things we should put the chickens on this bed next .... we are actually going to build it up first with more straw and compost .... and plant a big batch of root veg and green manure to further enrich the soil.

i reckon anyone should give this idea a go.  from backyard to farm.  this will be our "pretty feature" ... and it could easily fit in any backyard and provide you with a beautiful, sustainable veg garden!

a nice view up through our first mandala
bed .... you can see the little triangle
flower patch too!
a few quick resource links:

Monday, April 22, 2013

how to start a fruit orchard .....

fruit orchards ... everyone dreams of having one.  with trees dripping full of your families favorite fruit.  imagining that when your kids say they're hungry you can just send them out to pick some fresh yummy goodness.

fruit orchards.  so easy to dream about,
hard to implement and no quick solutions.  a combination of
patience, planning and piggies are called for!

our first step was deciding what would be in the orchard vs what would go in our food forest.  not as easy as you might think!  but we decided that the orchard would contain the stuff that we wanted to manage more and be very easy for the kids to get their hands on.   this area will also have a heavy load of citrus ... the kids are huge fans of mandarins and stone fruit... so we are ensuring that this healthy addiction is catered for.  we will also include a few new favorites and trees for the subtropics ...which means a black mulberry, guava, tropical apple and nashi pear will feature as well.

the other thing that we needed to consider in our planning was the fruit bats.  a massive problem in our area.  they can come through and destroy your whole crop overnight.  so to ensure that our investment is well cared for, we are keeping the orchard fairly compact.  this will allow us to put up a framework for netting when this is needed.

bring in the piggies.  i am still in awe of our little kiddo's.  they are half way through completely digging up this massive grassy area and preparing it for planting.  in the midst of this as they get through the grass i am adding a huge load of gypsom .... this will help break down the clay.  and of course there is the amazing goodness that their manure adds to the soil.  currently the piggies have cleared half the orchard area, and have now been released on to the final section.  to say they are enjoying the life of pastured pigs is an understatement!

the final step will be to lay down a thick covering of green manure.  this is a series of seeds / grains/ legumes that are great at enriching the soil and keeping the weeds out.  you grow different things at different times of the year depending on where you live.  our autumn / winter subtropical mix from Eden Seeds will do the treat well.  this will go down with a thick bed of wet straw .... and then we let it rest.  this will do great things for improving the soil.

BUT ....

inspite of that, we still have very heavy clay soil.  it won't be perfect overnight.  so we are going to mound plant, above ground.  so watch this space for our first winter planting ... stone fruit i think.  great to plant over winter as they are dormant.  lets their roots really sink into the soil and get bedded in.  bring it on!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Closing the Egg Loop

as i did my early afternoon wander yesterday ... just checking on plants and animals ... and enjoying the day .... as you do!  and i did my daily peak into the box for the plymouth rocks .... hoping against hope that they might be starting to lay.  not expecting anything ....

but guess what?????

how exciting!  i know ... it must seem silly to get excited over an egg.  most folks in these parts have hens and get eggs.  but for us, it is what they represent.

we are closing the loop on our chickens .... ensuring that we are completely able to provide for ourselves for both eggs and meat.

remember when we first made the decision to get our plymouth rock chicks?  this is how cute and adorable they were .....

well, six months on and this is what they look like.

this is Bob... our rooster.  he's grown up beautifully.  he has learned to crow properly (this is a sign that they have reached puberty), and trust me .... he has become a randy rooster.

so that little egg .... while it is only the first and after candling, i can tell it isn't fertile ... it represents our first JustEarth grown chick potential.  the next generation of animals that will provide meat and eggs for our table. raised in complete chookiness, enjoying their lives as co-workers on our farm.