Tuesday, May 31, 2011

wow! it's really happening!

well ... i am chuffed, ecstatic and over the moon .... it's happening.  our wasted gorgeous expanse of backyard is really starting to transform .... it's not a wish, a hope or any of that .... it is really happening.

so .... back in my Contour .... it's a catching thing! post .... i referred to our great plans for the shape of things to come in our backyard .... here is a refresher on what it was gonna look like.

the whole idea here was that we had defined the flow of water across the block ... identifying this meant that we could capture and re-use that water, naturally.

so the next thing was to get all our supplies together.

1. cardboard.  and heaps of it.  sourced from grocery stores and the like, but a lot of the stuff at the grocers has a waxy finish on it and would take longer to break down .... but we found that the stack under the back entry of the local liquor store was the IDEAL source <g>.  cost .... nada!
2.  mulch.  well aren't we lucky that we've just had a council mulch day?  we have a nice big big pile in the front yard thank you!  cost ..... zilch!
3.  straw.  well, we had to buy this .... could've sourced it a tad cheaper down in the flat lands .... but would've eaten up more than that in the cost of petrol to go and get it .... so we just bought it local.  two bales for $22.  not bad!
4.  chook poo.  well.  hubby was on a mission and he went around some of the area farms and was able to get me 10 bags for $2 each.  woohoo!  potent stuff too .... needs to air out and be thinly used.

so.  time to get going!  first thing is to lay out the carboard in the pattern we want.  logs that have been cut from trees in our yard will make the borders of the beds.  this all goes well.  bed is about a meter wide, which will make for easy access on either side.

first thing to go down is straw.  honestly .... should've used mulch.  but i wanted to use these beds fairly quickly.  and i knew that using straw vs mulch would provide for quicker decomposition.  so a nice thick layer of straw goes on the beds.  this is followed by the chicken poo.

note that we have let the carboard hang out the edges of the bed excessivly.  the area's between the beds will eventuallly be filled with a pine bark mulch .... yet to come.  in the picture to the left note the tripod behind the bed.  this is a very deep area that i will be planting beans in shortly to get the nitrogen fixing stuff happening.  this area gets excellent sun during the day, so i really needed to exploit it.  the tree in the tire is a tangello.

you can see from the next photo that i actually have a rich soil down on one end of the bed.  this is because this is where the asparagus will get planted (two are being transplanted, two are new crowns i have purchased).  it needs a good deep rooting (10 cm) and would be completely overwhelmed by the chicken poo .... so i am using a rich soil from another part of our yard for this.  this will need another 4-5 wheelbarrows of soil before it is ready to take the crowns.

and finally .... another layer of straw.  this will bed the whole thing in very nicely.  the picture to the right shows it half covered so you can see where it is all going.  because of the potency of the chook poo it will need to sit for several weeks before i can consider planting.

I am thrilled to report that we have been having torrential downpours the past few days which have done a few things that are very special.

  • the rain will be helping to magnificently kick start the decomposition process and means that i should be able to start planting in the next week or so.
  • the contour thing has worked!  i have watched the meandering trail of water as it trickles down .... straight to our back bed!  whoohoo.

after this beds in, we will need to add a layer of good compost / soil and cover with straw.  it is in this straw that we will make little holes, fill with lovely soil and plant out my seedlings.

we have had a great addition to our backyard  .... hubbies home made bbq barrel.  it worked a treat for us when we used it this past weekend!  note the models to the right.

and the other is that the front bed continues to get more and more planted out.  the past few days i added some lovely baby spinach.  yumm!!!!  note that i have used the method that makes a whole in the straw, fills with a bit of manure and soil and then beds the plants in.

 i am so looking forward to what we will be eating from our garden kitchen come springtime!

next job .... off the the liquor store ... need more cardboard!  <g>

Friday, May 27, 2011

great idea! but not for me!

i can't begin to tell you the number of conversations i have had with individuals about our sustainable and permaculture based life changes who say, "wow .... i would love to do that!  but i just don't like to garden!"  some of the other comments i hear are very much akin to "i don't have time" or "i have a brown thumb".

... if you fall, even just generally into this mindset, then THIS blog post is for you.  hopefully by the end of this post you may see that living even some elements of the permie lifestyle is not beyond your reach.

my husband and i have three gorgeous children (see my other blog, The Mum Thing, to learn more about that).  but having three children means a busy life.  4 days a week include after school activities.  the mountain of laundry and the lunches that need to be made is enough to drive anyone crazy.  and the cleaning -- ugh! ok ... so i admit that isn't my best suit <g>.  all i'm saying is that i get being busy -- truly i do!

so let's nip the green thumb thing in the bud straight away.  remember that living a permie lifestyle isn't about gardening -- gardening is only a possible element of what you embrace ... there is much more to it.  the three facets of permaculture are:

  1. care for the land.  in relation to growing, it means to ensure that the techniques you use are sustainable, chemical free (e.g., non-GM), and that you are moving towards a closed loop system.  it also means that in your day-to-day life you make every effort not to destroy the environment, but to be a wise steward and care for the resources and use them to the best of your ability (grey water recycling and going solar, for example).
  2. care for people.  the example i heard was do you have a gate in the fence between you and your neighbor?  do you care for your family and friends?  for those people who's lives you are most involved with?  practically it means that we support locally grown produce.  by supporting our local growers (who we can identify!), buying at your local markets, etc.  what about bartering .... does your neighbor grow or make something you would like?  what do you have to offer in trade?
  3. shedding excess. well .... this one is pretty obvious!  do you have way too much of stuff in your house?  do you really need that extra indulgence?  do you really need to keep up with the jones's?  i don't think there is one person in the western world who doesn't struggle with wanting more than we actually need.  what a waste!  learn to do with less .... does it really do anyone any good?

so .... those are the three principles in big picture.  but what does that mean to you in a truly practical way? here are just a few of the things that you could do with your family to begin the transformation to a sustainable, healthy and renewable lifestyle.

be a locavore!  what is that???  it's someone who is passionately committed to buying locally.   i hear the argument that the produce is more expensive at the markets, or buying organic costs so much, etc., etc.  yeah.  it is and it does.  but you know what?  it's also healthier.  so you are putting healthy stuff into your body.  which means that down the track you are cutting down on medical bills and costs because you have a better way of life.  and isn't that the most important thing in the end?

recycle.  guess what?  it's ok to have second hand stuff!  we built our new chook hilton out of 95% recycle goods.  tomorrow we are going to the local mushroom growers and getting a truck load of free compost for the garden.  what about ebay?  the local op shops?  all ways to get stuff that is pre-loved and a great value to boot!

have a garage sale!  that's my challenge .... come our september spring we are having a HUGE garage sale and i want to get rid of heaps of stuff.  if it hasn't been used in the past 6 months it will get chucked (sentimental hiccups will only be tolerated at a minimum!)

find out how your meat is raised.  is it organic?  is the beef at least grass fed rather than grain fed?  are your chickens and eggs free range?  what about your pork and lamb?  ask your local butcher where they get their meat.  i had a great conversation with our butcher the other week and apart from learning that all his beef is grass feed (yeah!), he learned about Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm.  having that relationship with your butcher is invaluable.

so see, there is heaps that you can do that isn't about gardening .... it's about a way of life.  i think that most people would admit that providing natural, healthy alternatives for their family would be a preference ... and that's the fire in your belly that you need to own to get you started.  fan that flame just a little.  we fanned that flame in our family it's become a slow and continuously burning fire of excitement and hope about what we can do to change our little corner of God's world and restore it to how He created it .... and feed our family well to boot!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


i just couldn't help myself in posting a few things today.  we were so excited about getting the chook run completed .... thinking it couldn't get any better.  whoo hoo!

so today, a postscript on the chook hilton.

our happy chooks!
good morning girls!
the chickens are settling in just fine.  a bit of concern from some of them over how in the world they are supposed to get in and out of this ladder .... but most seemed to navigate the plank fairly well.  and those who didn't, well, they flew!  including the australop.  remember she was the one who hiked it to the top of the chook house?  i turn around and see this black blurr whizzing past me as she flies straight out into the chook run from the top roost in the shed!  hmmmm .... gonna be interesting to see how she does going back in later!  but all in all they are doing fine.  the isa browns have figured out how to get in and out on the perch with ease so i imagine that they will be setting the standard to be followed.  not sure what we'll do if they don't go in tonight.  i imagine we'll wait until they are roosting and then pluck them up and put them in!  hopefully we won't have to go there.  it's all a matter of learning!  and chickens ... well, they are dumb but they aren't stupid!  instinct runs very strong for them .... you can tell.  they'll get it -- and if not, we'll give them a nudge.  (so why in my head am i singing the old Beatles tune, "i get by with a little help from my friends"?)

doesn't it look great!
we even got three eggs today.  was surprised at that and thot they would show their disdain for a few days at least.  but i guess, if you gotta lay, you gotta lay!  opened the back to find two sweet little nesting holes dug out in the hay .... so that is great.

they are digging up the ground a treat already.  just what we wanted!  and they actually get heaps better sun in this location than they did in the other yard .... so i am hoping the nice warm sun will increase the egg production (that is the goal at the end of the day!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

the Chook Hilton is open for business!

all hats off to my husband for getting the chook hilton done.  a real feet of genius.  and the two really good things about it are that 1) he had fun doing it and 2) it cost us about $30 in long screws, bolts and hinges!  woo hoo!  <g>   tonight the chooks are perching happily in their new home and we are toasting our accomplishment!  i could wax on about this bit or that bit .... but this is one time when a picture truly does paint a thousand words.

we start the day with the framework that had been put in place last weekend.  note the mesh for the bottom of the coop.  the idea being that when the chooks are roosting the poo will drop through the mesh into the deep composting trays beneath .... which can be cleaned out from time to time and chucked in our main composting area.  it will also keep the chicken coop heaps cleaner!

the walls are going on!  we do love pallets!  bolted to the base with securing boards across the top.  these boards will be critical in holding up the u-beaut roof we have!

roof is on!  and the perches are being placed.  we are choosing to use branches of timber that have been harvested from the trees in our yard.  they are more natural and provide a bit of uniqueness to the design.  but even more than that .... they cost us zippo!

we are setting the perches at varying heights and angles.  we are hoping to add another 6 or 7 chooks in the next year and setting the perches up this way will allow us to easily add these new birds without running the risk of over-crowding.

here is a great shot!  you can see through from back to front.  the level area at the back is for the nesting boxes.  this will be accessible from outside the chook run to make for easy egg gathering.

note the pitched roof on the chook house!  this will allow for higher roosting if the quantity of chooks requires it -- at least that was the thot at the time.  little did we know that one of our girls would take to it straight away!

the log that is in place can easily be removed and allow for clearing of the hay to the ground below ... for the chooks to scratch and dispatch as they see fit.

my major contribution to the effort .... the ladder for the girls!  an old board hanging that was around ... nice and long so that it isn't a steep descent for them.  i have taken smallish sticks from the yard and simply nailed them to the board at set intervals.

and on goes the front door!  note the double door set-up.  the whole door is meant to be left closed for most of the time - opened mostly for easy access if needed.  the smaller hinged door is opened each day to let the girls in and out.  you will note the board sticking out at the bottom .... this will have a hook hanging from it for the water .... keeping it elevated and clean.

so the doors are on, front and back .... next it's time to get the fence up.  the chooks will be on the side of the backyard .... with heaps of leaves and scrub to scratch around in.  they haven't been in this area of the yard before.  hoping for a double hook here .... fresh and interesting area for the birds and the poo'ing and scratching the birds do in the run will help to improve the soil and allow us to plant a few fruit trees along the fence line.  

a final look at the hilton before the girls are brought in.  
the front of the coop, door open and ladder installed.

that's me .... putting straw in the back of the coop for the girls to lay their little eggs in.

a final glance inside .... nice and cosey, don't you think?  all ready for the girls to come in!

that chuffed look on scott's face is because he has never handled a chook before.  so he helped with the transfer of the girls to their new abode.  we waited until late in the afternoon so that we could close them in straight away to get used to the space.

so the girls are in.  amusingly enuf the australop has found the top shelf!  getting as high as she can!  well, she has proven that it can be done and that their is indeed room for all the new girls we want to add come the spring.

welcome to your new digs.  up on perches already and checking the world out.  hope you like it.  it is certainly dry and well protected.  good night girls!

the exciting part of this chicken coop and move is that it is our first major step in achieving our backyard vision for sustainability.  it means that we can start thinking about setting up the no dig beds, modifying the current raised beds and getting our food crops in the ground.  the sooner we do that the sooner we will be feeding our family and not relying on the stores.  it's a step by step process and  it's certainly not gonna happen overnight ....but each week we seem to be seeing something change and morph in our yard.  it's quite exciting really.  this winter season is great to be bedding in some fantastic changes in our way of living.  it elicits in me the quiet hope of amazing crops and possibilities for the spring and for our families health and well being.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

taking stock .... early winter update

not much really growing in a major way right now .... so i thot it might be a good time to give updates on where projects and plants are up to on our little homestead.

the front raised bed
the front center bed.  seems to be ever growing and morphing.

on the one side is the raised veggie patch.   in this one we have some greenfest pea's growing, garlic and snow peas that are being tried on a river cottage style growing piece.  all seem to be doing well.  the garlic sprouted really quickly and the two types of pea's .... while they don't have flowers on them yet, are growing like weeds.  so that is all good.  the broad beans are up too.  i read today in an organic magazine that you should pinch out the centre of broad beans early on to promote more bean pods.  gonna have to give that one a go!

the river cottage inspired
snow pea trellis.
the dissapointment in this bed is the parsnip and the comfrey.  neither seem to be coming up at all.  they both should be.  my understanding is they tolerate this moderate cold fairly well .... but no joy on that.  i'm also dissapointed that i didn't put more mulch down.  the grass has bloomed horrifically and it ticks me off.

on the other side we have started concept #3.  we knew there was good earth under the layer of grass .... but felt really daunted that getting all that grass up would be really painful.  so instead .... scott mowed the lawn right back .... we dug up the bed a little bit and are covering with newspaper and straw to get it ready for the spring.  i have planted an edging of parsley and it finally seems to be taking off (you can never have enough parsley!).  there is also a few errant strawberry plants as well.  i have moved the artichokes to the front.  aesthetics really .... they look really cool as they get bigger and besides offering good food, they will look good in the front yard too.
the parley lines the front of our
central bed.

we are ending up making this side a bit of a two tiered area ... the edge closest to the street will have trees planted, we have a division made with limbs from trees that scott has been pulling down, the idea being to level that up a bit .... the tree's and whatever ground covering they have will be slightly raised.  still need to get a few companion nasturtiums and marigold's in.  i reckon lavender will be a bit of a go'er as well.

chicken hilton.  hmmmm .... it's a bit of a touchy subject, but v.1 wasn't stable so had to be pulled apart.  let's just say the chickens are gonna love v.2 .... it will work a treat i do believe!  will be able to house over 12  chooks and it has a mesh floor to utilise deep manure mulching.  hoping that the final product will be up and running this weekend.  fingers crossed.  once that is done the big beds in the back yard can get started and bedded down to rest for a spring planting.

the chook hilton progress.
the wire allows for the manure
to pass through to a deep mulching
bucket  below.
seedlings.  these are looking good in my greenhouse.  i am going to start trying to get into ugly veggies <g>... the first is celeriac.  heaps of my seeds are coming up so i'll keep you advised on how they turn out.  i have a plethora of cabbage, snake beans and also am about to plant out broccoli and cauliflower.  i've also got chives, comfrey, spinach and beetroot ....

i have to figure out how to get this comfrey really going.  i've got a punnet of 8 and only one has sprouted.  really disappointing.  comfrey is a real central part of our composting and weed management program.  it has something in the leaves that really promotes decomposition in compost piles as well as being a great border for beds and keeping the weeds out.  so i am going to have to find another way to get this stuff to grow.

you'll remember my post on my love affair with leeks.  i planted out a tray with 24 punnets with 2-3 seeds in each punnet.  so far i have about a dozen coming through.  moved their position in the greenhouse so that they get a bit more sun .... so the jury is still out on this .... but at least something is coming up.

more chooks.  yes, well, we still have them -- they haven't flown the coop.  thought i might loose them again last night when one tried to get on the top of the shed.  but i managed to get them all locked away safe and sound.

the compost bin is up and running.  i don't have the balance correct .... but our hearts are in the right place.  i have to say that turning the stuff is an absolute pain and i see why folks get the tumblers .... hey! just being honest!

scott and i will each be attending a Milkwood seminar / course in June.  Scott is going to the Aquaponics DIY workshop and i'll be attending the Mushroom Growing seminar.  i am expecting that shortly we'll be growing fish and fungi to harvest and enjoy!  they also have a Food Forest weekend that i would love to attend .... but i am not sure if it is do-able .... and shouldn't i be putting into practice those things i already know before moving on to others?  but i can dream!

so i give us a pass for the winter work so far and an A+ for effort and enthusiasm!  the potential is there and we should be reaping the rewards very shortly!

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Chicken Run" revisited ....

so today we went from 5 to 7 chickens ....

i thot, that after owning chickens for 3 years i knew a fair bit about chooks, their habits and how to care for them. boy ... did i get a lesson in chook care 101 today .... so many things i forgot or just didn't know.

the whole purpose of getting these two additional chooks (they were free on freecycle, btw) was to provide us with more eggs during the leaner winter laying months.  i got really excited when i got home and let them out of the box and there was a u-beaut egg in the box.  good girl!

but i'm getting ahead of myself.  i need to step back a bit.

keep in the back of your mind that when i picked these hens up the owner said the bigger white leghorn cross was the dominant chook and picked on the smaller isa brown cross regularly, ergo she looks a bit hen pecked.  but i think to myself, this is ok ... because once she has the others to mingle with it will fall away and the hierarchy will be worked out.

so i have been giving the old girls free reign .... they've got well over half the yard that they are foraging in ... all in an effort to get the chickens to get our back yard ready for our no dig veggie transformation for the spring.  all good stuff!  i decide though, that when we bring the new girls home that i'll lock them all in the back area for a few days .... just to assist in the inevitable hen pecking that will ensue as they adjust to each other.  i figure close quarters will get it over and done with sooner.

so ... the new girls come home ... i let them out of the box.  a bit euphoric as i get the nice warm egg out of the box ... thinking u-beaut!  so i start to walk out of the pen to leave them alone and what happens!  little miss hen pecked, the new isa brown cross starts taking on all the others!

squawk!  feathers flying!
squawk! beaks a pecking!

this little monster!  i couldn't believe it!  she had turned into a beast!  so much so that i decide to nickname this creature beastie-boo.  it suits her completely. she chases all the other chooks around the yard trying to put them in their place.  with mixed results mind you .... but she does give it a good effort.

and the leghorn cross isn't so bad .... takes on the old isa browns a bit ... but manages to keep clear.  certainly not the agressive chook that she was made out to be!

my poor old girls don't know what to make of it all!  i've set the fox amongst the chickens!  LOL!  so much so that when i go out an hour or so later to hang some laundry and wander over to see how they are doing ... the 5 old girls are hovering at the gate desperate to get away from these new birds.  i think they are being woosy myself .... but such is life as a chicken.

time out .... kids come home from school and i need to get my eldest to her piano lesson.  figure i'll be home in time to check that they have all gone in to roost and make sure that they haven't killed each other.

beastie-boo trying to
put the old girls in their place
ha .... ha ......

i get home ... and the sun has gone down a bit sooner than anticipated ... but that's ok .... just go check the girls are all in and then shut them in for the night.  take the torch with me .... one, two, three, four, five .... the two new ones are gone.  i sigh .... what has happened?  how could this happen?  i feel really bad and wonder if there is anything i can do.  i wonder if they have nested somewhere else for the night .... and start looking around.  nope ... .can't see them in any of the under growth.  and then i look up ....

not too far ....
just about at the 2 meter mark i see a white blob in the trees.

what tha!  my girls don't fly!  let alone roost in a tree!

i manage to grab her and toss her in the coop.  one chook down.  i look high and low for the other one and don't see a thing.  i sigh and give up ... she was a bit of a beast anyway ....  but then the guilt sets in.  so i get a stronger torch and head off looking around the rest of the yard.  nope .... not over there ... or there .... then i go around the side of the coop and look back into the yard and there she is .... perched precariously on a branch of our neighbors tree that is hanging into our yard.  one wrong move and she'll be gone.  i try to remember that chooks are very docile at night .... maybe, just maybe i can grab her.

quiet, stealth .... no! branches breaking under my feat ... crunch, crunch ... grab, squawk!  gotcha!  beasty boo gets chucked into the coop.  done!  all locked in for the night.

don't know if i'm going to be popular with the girls in the morning.  planning on leaving them in their little coop while i trim a few wings and trees ....

it will be interesting to see what tomorrow holds.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

a state of nobility and sacredness

the dictionary defines nobility as

1. Possessing hereditary rank in a political system or social class derived from a feudalistic stage of a country's  
2.  a. Having or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity, or honor: 
    b. Proceeding from or indicative of such a character; showing magnanimity:
3. Grand and stately in appearance; majestic

there is this farmer in Tennessee that i think i might have a crush on.  Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.  oh....don't take it wrong .... i just love the way this guy talks and what he is on about (psst .... hubby has a bit of a man crush too! <g>).  he wants us to be committed to the nobility in which we were all created.  to express the God ordained "humanness" that is intrinsic in how he made us .... because it is good. 

at the end of the day his challenge for us is to find our true nobility and sacredness -- and express that in all that we do.  for a Christian this call will ever draw us back to an appreciation of what our Lord has done for us. 

from an environmental evangelist perspective, it means that we acknowledge that our Divine Creator (or mother nature if you can't wrap your head around the God thing) made our world and made us to be caretakers of it.  He created this world for us and has put us in charge of it ... an amazing creation that is self-propagating, self regulating and provides all the best food and nourishment we, as those created in His image could ever need.  our challenge is not to move away from this sacredness, not to destroy it, but to reflect His glory and beauty in everything ... because it is how He ordained it.

mr salatin, because of his farming background, expresses that in some beautiful and at times quite humorous ways ....

  • allowing a chicken to express it's "chicken-ness" (e.g. scratching and digging) brings out the nobility and beauty in what they are.
  • a pork his "porky-ness" by rutting with his snout to dig up food
  • that an essence of egg is a beautiful thing
  • and in the end ... it means that in expressing our humanness, we are returning to the nobility of how God created us ... to the beauty of what He ordained for us.

it is a call away from the processed factory enhanced stuff that we allow ourselves to ingest.  we have been allowed to think that because something looks good, is bigger or is served faster it is better for us.  we  have embraced the world's lie that it must serve us, and our time compacted lifestyles rather than enjoying the pace and beauty at which it was meant to be.   if you want the full story on what is in our foods, you must watch the movie Food, Inc.  it will open your eyes and challenge your thinking.  the ramifications of embracing the nobility of and sacredness with which we have been made will change your life.  

while salatin is a farmer, and his examples come from his farming background, they apply to all of us.  whether we have a patio, an acre or a hill side.  it's the idea of supporting or growing things we know.  can't grow?  then by local.  use fresh products, not processed stuff that is so crammed with chemicals that the nutrients that God intended them to have have vanished.  ditch the GMO!  think about and reflect on how God created this world and how He intended it to function and mimic that .... in your lives, your relationships and your responsibility to be care takers of this planet.

here is Mr Salatin's practical, approach to this .... watch this short preview of the newly released movie "Fresh". (another must watch movie which is just starting to hit the Australian public now.)

and if you have 15:34 to spare .... his TED talk is a must watch to truly understand where he is coming from and the impact that embracing the nobility and sacredness of Him in who's image we are created.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

P is for .... pallets

so ... hubby has a new fetish ... he is a pallet freak.

in the ethos of trying to recycle and re-use rather than buying new, we have found an endless source of pallets. and of course ...
  • pallets = timber
  • timber = building projects
  • building projects = a happy "permie" family!
so we have our pallets .... what are we gonna do with them????

the great part is that we were able to get good wood ones. a pity that so many these days are built with cork or ply ... which means that using them for any outside projects are an absolute waste.

but these.... these are good! hubby starts imaging how to use them ... what we've discussed as a priority. the cool thing is that intact .... they are free standing walls .... which is really great. so .... first project is .... drum roll ...... a new compost bin! yeah!

way too simple to put together. a back wall made out of corrugated iron that we had, sides out of pallets and the front out of two solids bits of pallets that we managed to get. knock up a simple door frame and voila! you have a compost bin with two stalls! the two stalls allow for easy turning of the compost matter which will help get the decomposition going quickly. note that the two bay doors open out which allows for easy access. i'm going to use the Berkley Method of composting .... which should give me my first batch of good compost in about 3 weeks (i'll report back on that later!).

we are really proud of this project. the only cost to us has been about $5 at the local hardware store for the hinges. and it only took about an hour to put together! can't ask for better than that!

project for next weekend? new chicken coop -- or chicken hilton as it has been code named. come spring i am expecting to at least double my number of chooks ..... let's see how much stuff we'll be able to recycle then!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

contour .... it's a catching thing!

i bet some of you are wonderin' where we are at with regard to our backyard "permie" transformation, huh?  well ... i said that we expected some morphing to happen .... and that perhaps initial thoughts and designs would change?  well,  that is an understatement!

a view of the milkwood veg patch
after our day out at Milkwood Farm, i was really struck by what they had done with the veggie patch  out  behind the wool shed.   it is a bit hard to see from the pic at the right, they have built this thing to capture the rain run off by building their beds on contour with the land and thus capturing the water when it rains.  the flow of the hill that this is on comes from the top right of the pic and thus any rain run off is caught and held in the beds .... veggies lovin' that!

the other thing i was really struck with was their ability to use local or recycled materials.  it is pretty obvious from the pic that they have used local timber for both their bed walls as well as the wood chip path between the beds.  it has also enabled a much more fluid line and less structure in the garden beds .... which makes them flexible long term and easy to modify and change if needed.

just seeing this has been a real boost to scott and i.  we've been stuck in wondering how and where we were going to get the materials for the raised beds to get the back garden done.  it's been a bit daunting to think of having to build this huge structure that seemed so permanent and inflexible.  seeing their veggie patch .... and how low cost and easy it was to do, really encouraged us.

the other thing was learning that no land is ever flat .... there is always some contour to work with.  which made us have to rethink the lay of the backyard and if we could take what we had thought was a pretty flat piece of land and find any contour on it to exploit the rainfall.  in my belly i knew we could .... so we came home invigorated to figure out how to best utilise the natural resources we had.

the first thing was ditching the structured bed.  yes, we knew that with a raised bed you had the opportunity for further reach and bigger beds .... but if we committed to beds no wider than 1m .... then we could easily make them without borders and build them up that way.  reducing the need for buying or sourcing additional materials! 

so with that came the need to put the chickens to even more work.  we have expanded their backyard grazing area even more, to collect more of their glorious poo and benefit from the scratching.  from the picture on the left you can see where we have moved the fencing and the old line from where they were.  a pretty dramatic shift!  and needless to say, the chickens are loving it!  this means that within a week or two we will be able to throw down the cardboard, hay, compost and manure to make our first serious winter beds.  and i have seedlings that i'm growing now that i can't wait to put in these beds!

the next issue was contour.  have a look at this picture and you'll probably see that yes, indeed, we do have some land fall on the property.  the water runs from the top left down towards the middle of the yard.  we had to figure out a configuration on that contour that would allow us to capture the bulk of the run off through the yard.
so ... here is the first try of what we thinking we'll do.  the blue lines represent the flow of water on the property.  i have noticed over the past few years that after a major down pour or a few days rain, that the middle of the yard seems to turn into a bit of a bog ... or at the very least is where we have the greenest grass!  so this is where the rain is traveling.   the green area's represent the potential beds.  the large one in the modified "C" shape needs to be more of semi-circle shape, but you get the idea.  if those ends are just a bit more open then we'll be able to capture more of the rain water and it will get fed through the beds in the middle as well.  it's the hope anyway!

and .... as we are learning, everything is about trying something and seeing if it works.  if this doesn't completely do the job .... then we'll try something else for the next spring.  one thing that we are going to try is to build up our soil via the food forest.  you can't really see it very well .... but on the left hand side of the picture .... running almost the entire length of our backyard, along the fence line, is where we would like to have a food forest.  challenge is that that about 3 cm under the grass it is a rock .... so we are going to  move the chickens over there, pile in old mulch clippings, food scraps and hay for the chooks to scratch and poo in and are hoping that this will go along way to building up and improving the soil.  we have cut down about 6 trees from the side ... so more sun is getting in ... but we'll have to see how it all works .... i am still a bit skeptical, yet willing to give it a go <g>.

in the meantime .... our chickens are very happy.  they are loving their new grass and we are loving the scratching and fertilizing ..... thank you very much girls for all the hard work!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

a day on the farm ....

national permaculture day today, if you weren't aware.  a day when those of us "permies" take great pride in being in full blown sustainability mode and show off what we are doing.  across sydney, there were heaps of backyards and allotments open for folks to see and be inspired by.  we chose to go another route .... instead heading away from the city to a small farm out near mudgee called Milkwood, where they have embraced permaculture from the ground up, literally.

My  beautiful boys loving
the farm way!
the husband and wife (and bub who is 2!) that run this place truly inspired scott and i.  a couple who abandoned their city lifestyle and embraced  permaculture with their whole hearts.  to those of us who get overwhelmed easily by this stuff and feel that you have to know heaps is encouraging to know that they started simple too! they are still doing it simple -- committed to using recycled materials where possible and appropriate, and saving an immense amount of money because of this focus.  you can tell they are always asking the question ... how can we re-use, recycle and make it happen with what we've got access to.

it was great to see a real life implementation of swales .... and how that can significantly help retain water .... or building beds on contour to maximize the use of water run off .   seeing the start of their own food forest .... and that it is, well, pretty darn simple!  and practical too!  it helped me to realise that we could actually do this!  i have to say the composting chicken coop really was amazing ... a home for 20 or so chickens where you put items for composting in at the top of the hill and watch the chickens scratch and do their good stuff in it  as it meanders and makes it's way to the bottom.  how ingenious!  <g> 

i must confess to being a mad follower of their blog.  the missus is the author and she shares a great yarn about the day-to-day triumphs and just living that they do on the farm.  it makes it all very personal and very achievable to us green horns.

and they are very generous.  they are learning and growing in their own methods of trying things and have started their business, teaching others about permaculture.  they have interns on their property that live there and learn and help them out .... everyone learning together and from each other. 

i had met Nick, the husband, at an intro to permaculture course and found him very down to earth.  and when we arrived at the open farm day, i found his wife no less engaging and genuine.  these are real folks, embracing a sustainable lifestyle because they want to have a better life for themselves and their family.  and their farm is a growing testimony to that .... seeing their successes and works in progress (nothing is ever a failure, btw, it's a learning experience!).  it was truly inspiring. 

oh, and psst ... the kids had fun too!  <g>  there is talk afoot that they will be starting a permie kids program that the children can be a part of along side parents doing the two week PDC (permaculture design course) .... i am hanging out for that!  what a learning opportunity for my kids!  <g>

anyway .... here are a few photo's from our day on the farm ....

Lea and JJ listening (haha) to Nick talk about, and showing us, the swales
they have on their property.  He also discussed the the tree planting and how
that aids in water retention on the property.  (btw, scott and i
were thoroughly engrossed!)
the earth dome.  done in a workshop on site as a test
and prototype.  cost effective, very stable and cozy ....
the chook dome (one of three chook runs).  this is meant to be moved
regularly for the birds to live, scratch and leave their lovely stuff to
improve the soil!

chook run #2. Nick is talking about how it's on a slope and they add materials at the top
and the chooks "do their thing" so that it comes out as at the bottom as compost
to be used on the food forest.
the start of their food forest. can't really show just
how cool it was to see this growing. nick talked a lot
about planting based on consistent, reliable produce
rather than sometimes heaps and inconsistently.

chook run #3.  had some chicks in this and a few sussex.  and a few breeds i couldn't
even try to spell.  these guys are getting into the interesting breeds ...
picking those that are best suited
for the uniqueness of the Mudgee climate.

the veggie patch out behind the shed (may not look much at the moment, but that's because
winter is coming in and their winter  crops are just starting to peak through).   scott and i have completely
rethought out back garden based on this.  looking at the lay of the land
they have built these beds on contour to catch as much of the natural rainfall as possible.

another look at what they've done.  simple ... wood borders, no dig beds,
mulching from the trees for paths .... how simple can you get?
 i am not sure i can sum up just how eye-opening this day was for us.  seeing the stuff that we are working towards in our own lives lived out really lifted our souls on the next step of our journey to sustainability and responsible living.