Yay! Growing Season Is Finally Here!

With the consistent warm weather of late and a crazy hot week to come, the market garden is finally starting to thrive! Most of the plants have recovered from the freak December frost, however, a good 50% of the first batch of french beans were lost along with a handful of the tomatoes. Not much you can do about freak frosts really… Our on contour garden beds, with mini swales are working a treat. The swales are heavily mulched with all of the weeds that have been pulled up and last seasons spent crops that didn’t go to the chickens or the cows, under all the mulch, feeding the worms and decomposing away. The idea is to build soil in the swales during the growing season and winter. Once the crops are all done, they will be removed and put into the swales and covered with straw mulch, then a cover crop and green manure will be sown in each bed to over winter. The winter here is just too cold for us to grow surplus food for people on a sustainable level, so this year we will concentrate on extra soil fertility and weed management through green manures and cover crops. Just before the new growing season, the green manures and cover crops will be chopped and dropped and the swales will be emptied of their rich, biologically active, worm castings intense soil, which will be placed on the beds, ready for the coming season, where will will start again with the soil building program. I am still hot composting, but am for going the worm farming, choosing to worm farm in the ground instead. Theoretically it should work well, but we can only wait and see:-)

 

Back to business.

Spring has truly sprung! The weather has been up and down like a yo-yo, with horribly wet, windy and cold weather last week and warm and sun forecast for this week! The vegies are really kicking off with the extra daylight hours and we are finally back into the swing of things. All the productive gardens, orchard, berries and herbs have had a good spray of beneficial microbes, seasol, fish emulsion and liquid compost and this should really give them a boost for the coming growing season. I plan on continuing the spraying regime once a fortnight and hopefully everything will thrive and set in for the summer. Our Highland cows will soon be back to their once daily rotation, with maybe another week or two in their current paddock. The sheep are being rotated each fortnight at this stage and are now not able to keep up with the quick growth of the spring flush. The lambs are fattening up quickly and “Gammy” our house sheep, is doing well.

In our market garden extension, the potatoes in the no dig beds are sprouting well and it will be interesting to see what kind of harvest we get from them this year. In between each bed I plan to lay thick layers of newspaper and large quantities of compost and manure and thick layer of straw mulch on top of that. The plan is to plant into the straw in a good handful of quality compost. The compost should then inoculate the straw and manure, allowing the plants to take-up all the nutrients they need. Once again we will see how well this method works compared to the more conventional way of growing. Also I will be trialling a green manure crop, sown between potato beds, allowed to grow until just flowering and then slashed and used as a chop and drop mulch and growing bed. The seedlings will grow into the mulch in a good handful of compost.

Speaking of compost, at my PDC course, we learnt about making good quality microbial compost based on a 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ration. Compost should be ready in 18 days. So far I am up to day 11 and it is really looking good! Maybe a little too hot, as I have some white powder growing, but easily rectified. By the end of the week, I should have beautiful rich, microbial compost ready to spread and inoculate the soil! Below is a video after the 4th day.

In the current market garden, I have been busily preparing the beds for our coming vegie crops. I have forked each bed to break up the clay panning of the rotary hoe and the difference this has made to the drainage has been amazing. We got 20mm of rain over the past couple of days before today and where I had not forked, water was pooling, but where I had forked, the water had drained away nicely. It was still a little wet to work too much, but I was able to shape another couple of beds today and seeded them with turnips and sweedes. Each bed is about 8 meters long by about 900mm wide. On the high side of the bed, I have dug a small trench, forked it to aerate it, lay down the weeds I have pulled up and then a thick layer of straw mulch on top of that. The worms will go crazy for the decomposing weeds and the trench will act as a mini swale, storing and slowly draining water through the growing bed.

Back to weekly sales now with weekly deliveries. The sun has been amazing, working listen to the children play just 5 meters away and then having them all join me to weed the beds and hunt for worms, or help me seed the trays has been gold. Ahhhh life is good on the farm:-)

Prep for Potatoes

Part of the new potato patch where the cows had been feeding.

Winter has really set in here at the farm. Today it has been raining non-stop and looking on the radar, there is plenty more to come. We were toying with having a working bee to weed and prep the market garden for the coming season, however are really glad that I checked the weather bureau’s forecast before putting out the call.

We are halfway through the year now, being the 1st of July, and the rain tally is pretty much spot on the halfway mark of the average for our area with 336.5mm. Over the past few weeks, the rain has pretty much been unrelenting, and today was fold moving day. They have been grazing up close to the house block, in an area I will be planting out the potatoes this coming season. They are being feed hay as there has not been enough growth in the paddocks to sustain them to a healthy level. I could leave them and they would be fine until the spring growth, however, prefer they are looked after well and fed hay to keep them nice and healthy.

The area they have been eating has had a fair amount of cow ones and twos spread out as they are eating and the remaining hay that has been trampled, will be used with our compost, chicken manure and the neighbors endless supply of horse manure, to create an amazing, organic, no-dig style potato patch. Once the potatoes have been harvested, we should then have an area still rich in nutrients for other crops to be planted. Yes the cows will have compacted the soil somewhat, however, I will use the sub-soiler (mean looking Fergie ripper) to aerate and break the soil up before planting.

So today I moved the fold, and got completely soaked in the pouring rain for my effort…

At least the cows are happy and healthy.

The girls happily eating their hay. Fertilising and spreading their goodness.

Wet, windy and cold. A great day for working outside!

Interspersed with a tiny bit of sun, was a wet, windy and cold day! We have had some nice warm weather through the week and the weeds were shooting through the market garden area, so it was time to re-rototill everything in again. I will then wait for it to dry out a bit and then give it one more pass to make sure the weeds are well and truely dead. Next year, I think I will wait until September to rototill and plant some green manure to help increase the nitrogen and organic matter in the soil.

Speaking of soil, there are a rediculous amount of earthworms chomping away at our mulch, all adding to the soil structure, mineral and nutrient levels and airation. Either the bio-dynamic spray seems to be working or the mulching is doing wonders! Either way, the plants that are currently in are loving it! Below is an update of the potatoes I planted a few months back and a small lettuce and radish experiment I started a month ago. The potatoes are almost all up and it would seem that there is very little advantage in planting too early as they have all seemed to have sprouted within a couple of weeks of each other. In the coming week, I will direct seed out some more lettuces and radish and will also start a few rows of carrots.

The greenhouse is going well, although my batch of corn does not seem to like me. I will have to start again and see what I can get to sprout. Tomatoes have sprouted and last months tomatoes and capsicum are only just starting to grow their true leaves, which, although a good thing, it is a heck of a lot slower than I expected. Living in a colder climate is bringing with it some new challenges, but all part of the fun of learning. I will put them out in the open soon to toughen them up before plating them out.

As I type there are 7 out of 17 eggs hatched and another 5 pipping out. If can get 12-15 hatch I will be a happy camper! They say that you get 80% hatch in an incubator, so lets see if I can achieve this rate. The next batch will have 30-36 eggs and with that one, I will up the thermostate temperature another 0.5 degree celsius. The eggs started hatching yesterday, which is exactly 21 day, but the majority started today. This suggests that the temp setting is a little on the low side (only just) so I will adjust slightly and see how it goes.

Another day tomorrow. Can’t wait to get out there with the family and get stuck into farm work!

Farm Inputs

The aim on our farm is to minimise the inputs we have to purchase and put on the land. With what ever inputs we do need to buy and spread out, we want for them to be either organic, biodynamic, or as natural as possible. Our first major input was spread out today consisting of rock dust and lime. This stuff is literally crushed rock that increases the micro-biology in the soil and allows the soil to unlock its minerals as well as replenishing the minerals already in it. The rock dust came from Munash (www.munash.com.au) and spread by Matt, the very same guy we are getting our cheap mulching hay from. The company was once certified organic but is no longer due to the enormous amount of paper work required and partly because the quaries they get their rock minerals from are not certified. The minerals are natural and literally dug up from the ground and then crushed into a fine dust, so as far as I am concerned, because they have not been added to, chemically altered or processed in any other way, they are as organic as we will get – straight from the ground! Munash are now going through a certification process with another certifier, one that is a little more resonable with their costs and paper work.

The JCB was a very tight fit into our smaller paddocks and was unable to do all of our fields due to the saturated soil, but Matt managed to do most of our farm and I will manually do the rest as funds become available to purchase a small spreader.

While he was here, we got talking about dogs (as you do) and he has a blue merle pure and registered Coolie, which in a year or so, we will look to mate with Lightning and hopefully get a great looking litter of pups! We will make sure to register Lightning first to keep the paperwork in order and hopefully start our own line of working Coolie dogs! The line the male comes from, is renowned for being excellent workers and he is also one of only a handful of long-haired Coolies in Victoria! We’ll wait and see how things are going in 12 months time and if Lightning is ready, then we will put the two together.

Enjoying Life

I have been home for a little over a week and lots of things have been ticked off the ‘to do list’. The orchard has been slashed and mulched, garden bed weeded and prepared for the next batch of vegetables, lawns mowed, herb beds mulched, a bit of brush cutting done (still more to go, but ran out of line), more seeds plated out in the greenhouse, seedlings out in the market garden, mulched and weeded the potatoes and collected 13 bales of oat hay that has been rain affected for $1.50 each! The plan is to use this as mulch – the bales already sprouted and then died back, and are decomposing, so perfect for mulch – and as the paddocks they came from only had lime and rock dust as inputs, the minerals will make their way from the hay to our farm! The rock dust is literally that, crushed rock minerals, spread out over the paddocks to re-mineralise the soil and unlock the minerals already in the soil. We have as much of the stuff as we want and at this stage, will be picking up about 100 (or more) in the coming few days – this is where I need a truck with a flat bed….hmmm, I wonder…..

Biodynamics

When we first purchased our little patch of paradise, Hayley and I dicussed whether or not we would go certified organic or not. After doing some investigation, we decided not to as the cost and time required to keep things sorted for auditing was not going to be worth our while. Instead we thought we would grow organic (as if THAT was ever in question) and not certify, but also look at going biodynamic, once again, uncertified. What is biodynamics, well read here:

http://www.biodynamics.net.au/

I am not a huge fan of the mystic mumbo jumbo, but the common sense approach it brings and the symbiotic philosophy, to me is very aluring. In a nutshell, it is all about the health of the soil, the health of the plants, the health of the animals and ultimately the health of us. Biodynamics’ core element is a mixture called 500, a cow horn stuffed with cow poo and buried for 6 months to super decompose. What is left is an amazingly concentrated humus filled with natural organisms and good soil microbs.

So after purchasing a home gardeners kit at the start of the year, which inoculates upto 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of land, I finally got around to inoculating our orchard, berries, kitchen garden and market garden areas. There is still enough to do the same again, which I will do mid spring. The instructions say to do it 2 times a year, once in spring and once in autumn, but to give it a boost start, I was told that I could double up early on and then do the standard applications there after.

As always, I had my young padawan with me, wanting to help in everythiing I did! Tano-Li helped to spray the mixture in the orchard and he also helped to load the ride-on trailer with the cut grass Vern had just slashed! He asked what he could do to help and follwed every instruction to the letter!

A big thanks to Vern and cousin Quoc-Le today for their help also. Vern played on the tractor and with the chainsaw and Quoc-Le helped stir the 500 mixture for an HOUR! He also worked out that planting potaotes by hand, can be pretty hard bloody work 🙂

We also made our own butter the other day! Hayley found a “bath milk” supplier and so until we have our own house cow, we can use this milk and cream to make our own dairy products! Hayley made some feta also! Can’t wait to have some!!!

This is a photo of yesterday’s lunch: homemade bread, eggs from the chook shed and homemade butter. Sen-blody-sational!