Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ruth Stout Methods

i was introduced to Ruth Stout when we moved to the Northern Rivers.  our permaculture guru (TerraSancta Permaculture) included it as part of how we should improve and grow our food for a very simple reason:

it's easy

there are heaps of other reasons, not the least of which is how much it improves the soil with the littlest possible effort on our part (e.g., we aren't spring chickens any more and if we can make it easier well that blast it all!  why not!).  it is an organic, healthy way to raise food which is dead easy and requires minimal effort .... how can you not give that a go!

in a nutshell, it is about building up rather than digging in.  you use it as a base and foundation on the ground .... and build up, using only straw, leaves and mulch from there.  how easy can that be!  

this quote from Homestead.Org really put it in perspective from a Creation Care point of view.

... a gardening method that she claims, properly, was invented by God.  For it was God who decreed that each year leaves would fall and cover the bare earth, and that in the spring, plants germinated and under their blanket of leaves would miraculously regenerate.  From this and other simple observations, Ruth decided that everyone should do what God does, and cover their garden area with "permanent mulch."   And then, as she had, they would discover that "There is peace in the garden.  Peace and results."

we have used this several times now and have been amazed at the results.  we were doing mandala gardens and let the chickens in their dome dig the soil and then we created our mandala's directly on top of that area.  we got fabulous plant growth and super healthy soil.

most recently i used this with our potato bed.  a 15 x 1 mtr bed full of potato's.  we started with laying down a broadcast of winter green manures .... just to give it an extra leg up on fertility.  but then we put it all under a bed of .... mulch.  covered it.  smothered it in fact.

after a chop and drop of the winter green manure, the next step was a little more labour intensive .... but by choice.  we made pockets in the straw and filled these pockets with compost.  into that we put our potato's.  and let me be clear .... i dug those pockets with my hands .... so it's not as if it took a lot of work!  

and then it was another thick layer of mulch (like 15 cm).  

as the potato's started popping through, i hilled up around them .... just like you would with straight soil  but rather than soil, i used, you guessed .... mulch.  ones that were growing too long and spindly, i gently laid them down and put mulch right on top .... this would encourage growth from those points under the mulch and more 'taters!  and who doesn't want more 'taters!

... it is not instantaneous.  this method is about letting nature do it's thing.  for potato's it is a snap.  but using this method as a primary system will take a bit more time.  perhaps adding compost between layers or chicken manure to help enrich the process as it breaks down and makes fabulous soil to grow your food in.  you will start seeing results straight away .... but your best results will be after a few years.  

we will be using this method for our entire veg patch as the season goes.  as a season ends we'll throw down some green manure and cover the lot with straw and let the earth, worms and natural systems do their good work.  it also means, btw .... no digging!  no sore backs!

here are some pictures of what we've been doing with the potato's.  a reference of some of my favorite ruth stout links is at the bottom.  frankly tho, if you simply google Ruth Stout you'll find heaps of information.
the green manure is coming on nicely!

Planting the seed potato in the hay in pockets of compost between
the smaller green manure.

mulching higher and higher!

laying the tall stems over gently and covering with mulch
to assist in further spud development!

another view on laying the stalk over and putting mulch over it.

gotta keep them mulched

one of the latest views.  i wonder how many potato's
we'll get from this harvest?

Monday, November 3, 2014

What do Lunar Landscapes and Bush Fire Season have in common?

so .... i know i don't post as much as i should.  and, frankly, i'm gonna stop apologizing.  most of you will recognise that if i'm not posting ... well, it means we're busy!

but a quick update today because it's early spring and early spring deserves a bit of a huzzah and hooroo!

here Down Under we are heading into summer .... it's arriving with all the climate change promises of dryer, hotter and drought that we are afraid of.  our place is full of trees and ground cover.  making it the ideal fuel for a bush fire to come roaring through.  you can keep the area around your house clear ... which we do .... but after that 100m clearance .... well, lets just say its quite lush and full of growth ... ideal fuel for any bush fire.

I should back up and share a diagram of what we had intended originally for our whole "pasture pig" area.  knowing they need heaps of ground cover and pasture to enjoy.  we opted for a rotational system that was around a quarter acre per pasture.  unfortunately we had been having a few problems with escape artists on just electric fence, so we opted to use traditional fencing, along with the electric fence in the new area.  this is the pig pasture area as we envisaged it originally.
our piggies have been having fun on Pasture One.  and if you've been around pigs at all, you know what they can do to an under story if given the opportunity

so, we did something that i wish i could say wasn't by accident.  we'd been nervous to move our sow and gilt out onto pasture for fear that they would get through the electric fence.  so had been procrastinating about moving them on to "greener pasture".   but i'm glad to say we allowed it.  we left our piggies in their first pasture area way too long and they created a lunar landscape that will, i am happy to say, not be of any help to any bush fires that might want to wander through!

we bit the bullet last weekend and did a proof of concept to see if we could keep them in electric fencing, with the addition of a grounding wire.  some of you are probably laughing as you can hardly believe we would've tried without a grounding wire.  remember we are still green horns in so very many ways!

but we knew it was time to move them on .... not just for our benefit and learning, but for their own health and happiness ... what pig wouldn't want to live on this?

but, i am happy to say that the piggies are now moved to Pasture Area Three... getting zapped at a 6.5 if they try anything!

Lucy, who is "in pig" already making her mark on the
new landscape!

Look closely and you'll see Susan's ear ... she is a smart
bit 'o bacon and likes to lay near the water trough.
they seem happy .... and are enjoying all the greenery and lushness that is theirs to dig and root through .... finding grubs, bugs and all sorts of wonderful little things to chomp on.

and in the meantime .... we have a quarter acre little square that will be very hard for a bush fire to take in!  and in a few days (when my green harvest and eden seeds order arrive), we will be throwing down heaps of great summer green manure.  we'll also do lots of pumpkin, sweet potato and choko.  these will not only be food for us, but yummy treats for piggies when they come back onto the area next winter.

and in the meantime, we'll keep destroying the sandy loam under story with piggies rooting digging and poo-ing.  they are adding so much fertility to the landscape! can't wait for late January when our piglets are due! they will certainly add life to the equation!

Monday, July 21, 2014

No Idle Hands Here ...

lest you think we have not been busy ...

oh we have been.... from fun to frantic, from piggies to planting .... it has been far from an idle winter season, and we have no doubts that it will bring on a very busy spring.

so much preparation, so much of the "doing what you can, with what you have, where you are ..."  it's just our lives at the farm!

here is a small snapshot of what we have been up to ... with the help of some young and burley woofers we have been doing a bit of digging and building!

Piggies ....

we processed another pig a weekend ago.  
he had a good life and we are grateful for his final gift to us.  

we also brought to more pigs into our clan.
the landrace is banquet .... we will process him later this year.
the little wessex saddleback is Suzy ... we are hoping that she will grow
to be a new sow and breeder for us, along with our other sow, Lucy.  
as long as Suzy learns her place and stops trying to escape and get stuck
in the electric fencing we should be right with this!

Veggie Patch .....

first goal is to feed our family.  come spring we should be growing enuf food
to not have to buy any more from our local co-op.  
enter our spring veg patch.  it started 3 months ago with pigs rooting through it.
today it is 4 x 14.5 metre long beds ready to be planted out.  lovely
saw dust borders that will help keep grass out and a 
comfrey weed border is in, cow pats maturing and green
manure has been ordered.  bring it on!

and watering.  this is a challenge ... but our IBC willl get filled
and used for watering our veg patch.  along with our worm
farm ... this will have a direct line into our water feed ... 
so all that yummy worm tea can go straight into our garden.

Fun ....
lest you think we haven't had any fun .....
we inaugurated our cob oven .... 
pizza and wine was enjoyed!

and of course, campfires ...
with children laughing and having fun.
who could ask for more?

winter is settling in and we are already thinking about spring.
winter is a time of preparation,
fun and family
frenzied activity
and enjoying this amazing world we live in.

may you take the time to stop, enjoy family
and friends and engage
with the wonderful people
in your lives.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Chookie Business

when we first moved out to JustEarth "mark 2" ... one of our big concerns was some of the wild critters that hang around.  oh sure there are snakes and lace monitors abounding .... but we were more concerned about wild dogs.

we want to free range our chooks .... and haven't felt comfortable letting them loose for fear of them getting taken by a wild dog.  and then there is our dog, Bella ... who, while she is part cattle dog ... her herding instincts lend themselves more to run, attack and destroy.

so these things have not been working in our favour for being willing to let our chooks be the animals that they should be -- in other words as one of our hero's, joel salatin would say, the chickenness of the chicken (for his very informative and yet highly entertaining Ted Talk ... go here).  it is a holistic approach to ensuring that not only your chickens, but your pigs, cows, etc. .... whatever you are keeping ... are living the lives that will give them happily and healthy lives, which in turn means that they will give you more in way of production.  a pretty good win / win situation in my book.

i think when the fall finally hit here in the Northern Rivers of NSW, and the sun went down on the horizon and we went from 8-10 eggs a day to zilch ... we kinda got frustrated.  our chooks had been in pens ... but not truly "free range" in their ability to fend for themselves.

and so began the great experiment.  we have a milk cow, we have a calf.  we have lots of their generous excrement that gets left out in the paddock.... just need to risk some of our chooks being released down there so that they can scratch through the cow pats and 1) feed themselves and 2) scratch out the dung so as to give a loverly fertile layer to the soil and help it to regenerate.

so a friend of ours was about to dispatch some of their old chooks so i raised my hand and said i'd take them off them.  no inputs from us .... their job was to feed themselves on what they could forage.

it worked.  they were going straight for the pats ... the fly numbers reduced significantly and i could see the ground soaking up all that divine manure and almost becoming more fertile before my eyes!

so if we could do if with those girls ... why not the rest?

sure ... okay.  lets give the layer hens a go ... let them out and see how it all fairs.

it fairs well!  they are loving their lives and living well.  and even more ... our feed bills are reducing significantly ... and they are scratching away and pooping in the area that will soon become the nubile food forest!  and guess what?  we are getting a few more eggs!  not heaps, but a few!  thank you birdies!

the last bridge to cross is that of our breeding group ... the plymouth rocks.  they have always known ONLY the geodesic dome.  dare i let them out in the event they get taken or run off permanently?  well ... hubby beat me to the punch and while i was down milking the cow this morning he was releasing "bob and the girls" ...

lets just say that freedom is becoming them ... all of them as they get used to being truly free to enjoy their lives the way that God made them ...

and what about the wild dogs and our dog?  well .... no wild dogs yet .... but we have to be prepared.  the chooks do get locked up each night so they are safe during the nocturnal times.  as far as our dog, Bella .... well, she went after the milking paddock chooks once ... and hubby was very vocal, very loud and very much in command and let her know under no circumstances that this was ok.  she still loves the chooks, but i am confident that she would rather make us happy.  so her life consists of the occassional herding of the chooks and mostly just watching them.  good dog Bella!

thank you for letting me be free!

cleaning out under the canopy in our future food forest.

gotta love a good dirt bath!

bob being "king of the castle"

what?  more bugs!  woohoo!
freedom for the plymouth rocks ... still getting used to the idea
but they'll get there for sure!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Meet Rosie ...

so where the heck have we been!

well .... we moved.  a bit further out of town .... but 100 acres with two dams and a lagoon (aptly already named the Lollipop Waterhole) which is spring fed.  and it has a house.

so a home..... we are blessed.

i need to start blogging a bit again.  but for this moment, today i'll just share that we have taken another HUGE step towards sustainability today.

meet Rosie .... our House Cow.  to say we are nervous and excited all in one breath would not be an understatement.  taking on the long term responsibility of this big and generous an animal (we will get so much milk!) is HUGE .... we are blessed and we take this seriously.

she is what is called a Golden Jersey.  she comes to us from a local dairy farm and we adore her!  she is about 8 1/2 months pregnant via AI with an angus calf.  so we already have the next generation of food for the plate ready to go!  her nature is beautiful ... she was following us around today as we finished her overnight paddock for her.  i can tell you she loves a good scratch behind the ear and above her tail.  and she is a licker!  probably just to get the taste and smell of us ... but very approachable and gentle .... we adore her!

we are doing the right thing, and rotationally grazing her and the calf.  our soil isn't that great and needs LOTS of enriching!  so very shorts stints on small paddocks is the way to go.

Geoff Lawton has done a great video on advanced cell grazing that allows you to manage and rotate your animals around your entire property easily .... have a watch here.  (btw:  if you haven't signed up for his stuff, you should, it's free!)  ours is a much simpler and modified version specifically designed to manage a single cow and calf and ensure maximum nutrients for the soil.  once we are comfortable with this, i reckon the model has significant use for our entire property.

more on that to come as we have a bit of infrastructure to do to ensure that she has adequate grass to graze on (even with an auger it takes a lot to set posts!).  most of these will be electric fenced areas with a few back bone fences as well.

and in the meantime ... when she isn't in her overnight paddock (which is done) .... she is multi tasking for us by mowing the fenced back yard .... it's a win win as she needs the grass and we need the lawn mowed!  all in a day!

hard at work mowing our back yard!