Feb 25, 2013

Garden Goodies in the Rain

Well after a short break its raining a lot again! If you want to see the high drama you need only turn on the news. I'm trying to keep focussed on the positives. The veg garden is going BONKERS! so I have been out trying to capture some of the action. My little cheap phone camera never does nature shots the justice they deserve so you have to imagine more vivid colours and textures. I see this garden every day, but still it's beauty is taking my breath away at the moment.
Asparagus. Such a great plant to look at, to eat and to touch. I think it should be planted on every corner in the garden so that as you walk around you can reach out and touch its soft foliage.
Aleo Vera, not so nice to touch, but a striking plant when healthy.
Believe it or not I still have a little strip of Potatoes planted back when the frost stopped that are hanging in there. I planted about 6 times this much, but most of it died off having produced no tubers during the heatwave. Anything from these will be considered a bonus after they have had such a rocky ride. 
I have Heaps of Spaghetti Squash on the way, but that's fine, I have read they are great keepers lasting up to six months. If you have never eaten or tried Spaghetti Squash I highly recommend you chase some up, they are such fun, taste great and easy to grow. I can't understand why they are not more common in supermarkets, ITS SPAGHETTI IN A PLANT!

The Spaghetti Squash plants can get huge.
The biggest one has stretched out across three garden beds in front of the house. 
Four or five months ago I planted some Turmeric. I had given up and forgotten it so almost killed it thinking it was a weed when it popped up. Despite me having  pulled it out of the ground it is hanging in there. its the one hiding behind the butter bean leaf with the one slightly brown leaf off to the left. Hope it survives.
Some Cosmos, to attract good insects to the patch. Pretty too.
Sun Flowers for the same reason.
Some more Asparagus next to Lavender and Chard around behind the old cement tank. 
Next to the old cement tank I have enormous Round Zucchini plants, I had no idea they could get that big, they are almost at my chest hight. The Zucchini keep getting away from me and getting huge, as big as pumpkins. Sadly they are only good for seed saving once they get to that size, but the chooks are not complaining. Also in this picture is a Purple King Bean up the back, some Egyptian Walking Onions on the left and Watermelon down the front. 
Out on the verge I have more Watermelon and Pumpkins stretching out, I'm not sure if the fruit will be ready before the frost, but time will tell. A little frustratingly I've noticed the plants tend to produce all one kind of flower at a time, so I have Watermelon covered in female flowers but no males and Pumpkins with all male flowers and no female, it makes pollination a bit hard :P
Lastly the rain gives me a chance to see that even the short piece of swale I have dug out so far is working, holding on to that water so it sinks into the ground just up from the food forest instead of running off down the hill.

Feb 13, 2013

Swale Part 1 - It begins

This morning I finally started work on my first Contour Swale. A very Permaculture thing to be doing.

What I am doing different to how many western swales are created these days is digging it by hand, an endeavour some might consider a bit crazy. Its going to be a little over 100 of  my paces long, my paces being a little over a meter I think. Its about a quarter of the way down the property, the highest point at which I could get a clear path all the way across. 

For more on what swales are and how they work I suggest a look at this two minute youtube video, Geoff Lawton can explain far better than I can :) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFeylOa_S4c 

The proposed path for the swale.
In terms of how I have my mind around this gargantuan task its another one of those cases where I see strong similarities between my new life and my old city job of animating. Animated productions are ridiculously huge undertakings, requiring amounts of work that when viewed in their entirety seem overwhelming. However, if you break the job up into small components and set yourself small goals along the way it is amazing what you can achieve. At Oska Software I might have produced over an hour of animation in a year, which would be over 36000 frames of animation, but by focussing on what I needed to get done each day, then each morning or afternoon, and then even what I want to get done in the next hour or even ten minutes it can become achievable.  

And so it is with the Swale, 100 paces sounds like a lot, but I won't be focusing on that. Here I dug out 4 or 5 paces in a couple of hours, which is what I intend to focus on doing regularly, it still leaves me time for other duties on the farm and makes sure I can give my back a rest. But 4 or 5 paces every couple of days will add up to say about 20 paces a week, in just a 4 or 5 weeks I'll be half way across etc etc.

This is how things are done when you choose to live a cash poor, time rich lifestyle. I could watch someone do it with a bobcat in half a day if I did more work off farm, but I think there is a big difference in how I would feel about the swale. This will be my swale, I will know every inch of it, instead of knowing every bit of some other job I had done for someone else to profit from just to get my hands on a slither of the money it might make, so I can then have an "easier" swale that I felt less connected to. I know its not for everyone, but this actually makes me happy, I can't wait to look back on my work when its done.

So far I expect I've been spoiled, the ground is quite soft after all the rain we had late in January, it will be interesting to see how we go. I'll keep you posted.

Feb 9, 2013

2013 What a kick off!

Well its all about the weather, and I probably don't need to go into too much detail for any Australian readers. Suffice to say it was bloody hot and dry for a long time and then very very wet for a short time.  We had temperatures well above 35 degrees (often over 40) for at least 3 weeks and then an ex tropical cyclone dumped about 400mm of rain on us in 3 days. Needless to say, we didn't get a lot done around the farm in January.

Not that I'm complaining, we got off a lot easier than many in South East Queensland, or even our own street.  We were worried about fire through the heat and it didn't happen, and it turns out our property is pretty well placed to cope with flooding rain. As frustrating as it all was we really just had to sit it out and were lucky.

Here are some pictures looking down the hill from our house at different times. 2011 just after we moved in. Then towards the end of December when we were drying out big time, that's even before the record breaking heatwave, so you can see why we were worried about fires. By the end of the heat wave the grass would crack under your feet like corn flakes.

And now some current photos after the big rain.

During the heatwave the veggie patch took on a look resembling a miniature shanty town as I found every little piece of shade casting material I could. 

And this is it now. It has left us at a strange point in the garden, now we finally have water, but its too late to plant summer crops and a little too early for most winter crops. I've been planting a lot of beans and peas, and am starting some Brassicas in seed trays.

The meat chickens in their mobile chicken pen are progressing well and doing a fine job scratching up the pasture for us. The chicken wagon is working pretty well, apart from a wobbly wheel development this morning, but it shouldn't be too hard to replace. The meat chooks are road island reds, our favourite breed so far, these ones will be allowed to get a bit older as we will eventually be collecting and incubating eggs from them.

Speaking of eggs, around Christmas one of our house chooks turned clucky, we secured some fertilised eggs from a fellow farmer and put them under her. We only ended up with two out of a dozen  but considering they were sat on through a record breaking heatwave and born into torrential rain that's not too bad.


And here is just a random picture of a couple of our house hens getting cosy in a nesting box, they have six to choose from, but all seem to like using one at a time.


As soon as it dried out a bit I got stuck into a project I'd been thinking about for a while. Its a firewood shelter, hopefully keeping it dry and up off the ground so I don't find any red belly blacks in there. Its made out of old pallets from the tip shop, I love building with them, its like giant Meccano.

A great Idea I picked up from Permi farmer friend Farmer Liz, using toilet rolls as seedling starters, so you can plant them without disturbing the roots.

Some pretty big news about our sheep. We are pretty sure we are going to get rid of them. Its not that they have done anything wrong, its just that our original reason for choosing sheep as our hooved herbivores (needed to restore our land) was that they are supposed to be good companion animals for horses. The problem is that nobody told our horse, Archie is not too keen on spending time with the sheep, especially if there is any food around. 

Now factor in that we hope to produce our own dairy here on the farm. We already have a horse and four sheep and were considering adding another animal for milk, a goat or small cow. The result is a very crowded little five acres, I was having trouble seeing how we could make it work. This was all the result of some linear thinking, we already had the sheep and I was trying to think of a way to add to what was already here to get where we wanted to be. So stepping back I could see that the sheep were not really fulfilling the role we had in mind for them. If we get a cow with calf we can get milk and meat all from the one kind of animal. I also suspect that cows are going to be better at reviving our pasture, the established and popularised Polyface Farms use cattle in conjunction with chickens and I'm aiming at a miniature version of what they do.  

The sheep have been interesting and have given us quite an education in animal keeping, we will miss them. I kind of liked being a shepherd. We haven't forgotten company for Archie, Vicki has been organising some visits from a neighbours horse. This is Spook hanging out with Archie for an afternoon.

The last bit of news for this post is that Vicki has found a local graphic design job. Its full time so I have had to quite my two days a week of teaching in the city. I'M A FULL TIME FARMER! For now at least.