Earning a living.

The kids all helped to plant potatoes this year and this is the harvest for today.

The kids all helped to plant potatoes this year and this is the harvest for today.

The kids have been helping sporadically on the farm ever since we came here, but this year we decided to take it to another level. They all have their little chores, but nothing really too substantial, but now, they have their chores and they have their “farm jobs”.

The chores are pretty straight forward, tidy the lounge, play area, their bedrooms, empty/fill/set the dishwasher. For their farm jobs, the boys have been given the responsibility of letting the chickens out, feeding them the scraps (Kobe-Li) and collecting eggs (Tano-Li) and Ava-Li turns a tap on and off to give the ducks their water. Added to this, I decided to have them help in planting potatoes this season. Now its time for the harvest and all of them are getting involved, earning a little extra pocket money for every kilo we harvest!

They have each had the chance to spend their earnings, each purchasing a little toy dinosaur, and now they have all decided to save their money to get the “big dinosaur”. It’s great to see that both the boys are understanding that it takes a lot of time and hard work to earn a living – Ava-Li on the other hand just loves being involved:-)

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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:-)

 

Contour Ripping

After a crazily cold night, I felt like getting out into the garden and try to warm-up, but the market garden was much to wet to be able to do anything in without destroying the lovely soil structure. After the recent rains, the market garden has perfectly stored the water in our mini swales and the garden beds (mini-berms) are slowly soaking away. So what to do…

I had made a small a-frame level at work for my fellow permie to mark out an on contour path and stepping stones, so I thought I would make myself one also. Three pieces of  scrap timber, screwed together and a small pouch spirit level screwed on (instead of a plumb bob) and an a-frame level finished, ready for contour plotting. I did test the a-frame on a dead level straight edge and it was spot on! My maths didn’t let me down:-)

I took the a-frame to our “test” paddock. This paddock is heavily compacted and has been fairly well grazed throughout the last season and into this winter. We are resting this one and I thought I may as well mark out some contours and give it a rip. The a-frame worked perfectly and for something that cost about $10 to make, it did a pretty good job! Each point was marked with landscapers paint and then onto the tractor with the Fergie sub-soiler attached and off I went.

Once the contours were ripped, it was much easier to see the “lay of the land” as it were. Between contour rips there is a difference of about 250mm and I am confident that the lines are pretty close to dead level (+/- 10mm) as I tested the top rips with a minor flooding by pumping from the dam. The water spread across the rip mounds and then into the rip lines themselves. Perfect!

It will be interesting to see the difference this makes to the land and the pasture. I can report that the sub-soiler, which went down about 600mm deep, exposed a goodly number of worms which quickly wriggled their way back to safety! A good sign in my books:-)

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Perspective

We all have our ups and downs and there are certainly times where I am sure that we have all look up and wondered how we can climb out of the dark hole that we are in. Of recent, this is exactly the predicament that I have found myself in, both at work and on the farm. Being in dark places, it is often challenging to break free and the difficulties faced can and do create a self fulfilling prophecy. It is fascinating that I spent five years of my professional life as a counsellor and saw the difference my support and advice made to the people who sought my ear, yet I am too stubborn – to the point of arrogance – to take some of my own advice, knowing full well the benefits of such. For this very reason I am so grateful that I have a great wife who puts up with my rants, raves and rages and then tells me as it is, changing my perspective on situations and pointing out all of the positive aspects of what has been achieved, while acknowledging the challenges to be faced. And the friends and colleagues who can see and share the vision and understand that positive change takes time and persistence. To them I am also grateful, for when I stare out the window in frustration they are able to bring me back to reality and also point out how far we have come and although there is still a looooooong way to go, the dream of change is becoming a reality.

On the farm, although things are going extremely well, we have only had 117mm of rain to date, and this is including the most recent rain event (which saw an added 15mm to the gauge, where other places within 15kms received up to 40mm). That being said, all of the hard work we have put into the market garden has seen it thrive and flourish despite early frost, no rain and an escaped cow to contend with! All of the manures, compost and mulch we have added through the last two years are really coming into their own in moisture retention and reducing plant stress through periods of dry. The paddocks however are struggling and we really need to keyline rip, and put in our planned swales and dams to allow for water and fertility security. The aim before years end, to put in one swale on our keyline contour which will stretch almost 500m in total, linking two dams. Through the process, I will no doubt enjoy every second of the surveying, pegging, marking, digging, fencing, planning and planting, working with nature to regenerate and improve what we have.

…. after reflecting on the past few days, weeks, months and years, the reality is, I have a beautiful family and the best of friends and am blessed with life. Although there are some dear to us who are ill, they are recovering and it is them who bring us all back to reality. I am no Bill Gates, but I feel like the wealthiest person on Earth.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! Thanks to all those who have supported us in our journey throughout the year and we look forward to more fun and games in 2013!

Below is a photo update of the market garden. Last year’s plot is now 2/3 drip irrigated. I am slowly installing the lines as each bed goes in. Still watering direct seed by hand, but once they have established, then the drip lines take over. As funds increase, I will also add a tap to every line, so that the beds can be individually turned on and off so as to minimise water wastage when they are fallow.

Anyway, here’s to another jam packed year of living:-)

The no dig potatoes are coming along well. The purchased seed potatoes are doing much better than the ones saved... May have to just buy them next season to ensure a good crop.

The no dig potatoes are coming along well. The purchased seed potatoes are doing much better than the ones saved… May have to just buy them next season to ensure a good crop.

Market garden corner shot

Under planting of pumpkins with the corn and beans are going well.

Under planting of pumpkins with the corn and beans are going well.

Corn, beans and pumpkins growing together well. Each batch of corn has been staggered. There are currently 4 beds of 100 corn plants, 10 pumpkins and 40 beans in each bed, with another 4 to go. Each bed is planted 2 weeks apart.

Corn, beans and pumpkins growing together well. Each batch of corn has been staggered. There are currently 4 beds of 100 corn plants, 10 pumpkins and 40 beans in each bed, with another 4 to go. Each bed is planted 2 weeks apart.

Going to go a little easy on the radish. They are so easy to grow, prolific and quick to harvest. Have learnt to stagger them instead of feast and famine.

Going to go a little easy on the radish. They are so easy to grow, prolific and quick to harvest. Have learnt to stagger them instead of feast and famine.

The girls have been fenced off into a larger paddock now. The pasture still has some green to it, but is quickly browning off with this dry summer. Fingers crossed should have enough feed until the autumn break...

The girls have been fenced off into a larger paddock now. The pasture still has some green to it, but is quickly browning off with this dry summer. Fingers crossed should have enough feed until the autumn break…

Our brassicas will be planted under netting to keep the cabbage moth out. Working perfectly so far!

Our brassicas will be planted under netting to keep the cabbage moth out. Working perfectly so far!

Lettuce with a middle row of beetroot. This planting pair has worked beautifully!

Lettuce with a middle row of beetroot. This planting pair has worked beautifully!

Zucchini galore! Yellow, stripped and the good old faithful black beauty! They are now growing out of our ears!

Zucchini galore! Yellow, stripped and the good old faithful black beauty! They are now growing out of our ears!

Nothing beats home grown heritage tomatoes!  We have Money Maker (I wish...), Grosse Lisse, Black Russian, Romas and Break O'Day. They are coming along well and pruning laterals seems to be producing higher quality fruit this season.

Nothing beats home grown heritage tomatoes! We have Money Maker (I wish…), Grosse Lisse, Black Russian, Romas and Break O’Day. They are coming along well and pruning laterals seems to be producing higher quality fruit this season.

Tomatoes underplanted with zucchinis

Tomatoes underplanted with zucchinis

We are leaving this lot to save the seeds. Should get a gazillion seeds from this lot :-)

We are leaving this lot to save the seeds. Should get a gazillion seeds from this lot 🙂

Colourful carrots:-) It is hard keeping the boys off this batch!

Colourful carrots:-) It is hard keeping the boys off this batch!

Ava-Li loves her peas. She just won't leave them alone! So much so that they will not be making it into customer vegie boxes!

Ava-Li loves her peas. She just won’t leave them alone! So much so that they will not be making it into customer vegie boxes!

The smell of these turnips  is amazing! If they taste half as good as they look then we are in for a treat!

The smell of these turnips is amazing! If they taste half as good as they look then we are in for a treat!

Our grafts are going well as is the small batch of tree lucerne I am experimenting with.  Will do another batch and plant everything out in the autumn/winter.

Our grafts are going well as is the small batch of tree lucerne I am experimenting with. Will do another batch and plant everything out in the autumn/winter.

The tiny greenhouse is holding it's own.

The tiny greenhouse is holding it’s own.

This fig cutting will hopefully provide us with heaps of figs in the coming years! It is loving it's home in the tiny greenhouse at the moment.

This fig cutting will hopefully provide us with heaps of figs in the coming years! It is loving it’s home in the tiny greenhouse at the moment.

Purple peas

After a horror start with seedlings (damn slugs) our cucumbers are starting to set fruit!

After a horror start with seedlings (damn slugs) our cucumbers are starting to set fruit!

Potatoes are my favourite veg and their flowers aren't too bad looking either.

Potatoes are my favourite veg and their flowers aren’t too bad looking either.

Potato flower More potato flowers

On Holidays and Time to Catch-up With Farm Work

Although I am on my holidays, there really isn’t any “holiday” here at the farm. I will be making weekly visits to work to check up on everything as well as do our regular deliveries. It was a pretty hectic end to the year, but all the jobs have been completed at work and now it is time to catch-up on work on the farm.

The market garden is coming along well, with potatoes now being harvested. The first batch of potatoes were from seed potatoes saved from last year’s crop. These have not done as well as the bought seed potato and next year I will be a little more stringent on seed saving selection. This being said, the no dig style beds are still producing well and as the bed gets harvested, they will be limed, rock dusted and top dressed with manure ready for another crop. The purchased seeds have gone much better and we should get a pretty good harvest with them.

The greenhouse project is now back on. I should have the frame completed by the end of the week, ready to be clad with polycarbonate panels. This greenhouse won’t be going anywhere! It is securely anchored into the ground and the frame itself weighs a ton – almost literally! The frame is made from blackwood, harvested from a friends place about 10kms away. This is a beautiful timber, normally used for furniture. This will be the best looking greenhouse around 🙂

The frame is almost complete. Made from blackwood, this is going to be the best looking greenhouse around!

Update

It has been a little while since my last blog entry. Things have been pretty busy, both here on the farm but also at work. This time of year we are busy marking, writing reports, more marking and more reports… It is part of the job, and I must say the least enjoyable. That being said, it is a small price to pay really when you love your job:-)

So firstly an update on the farm:

The orchard is coming along very well this season. I count over 20 apples that, if the rabbits or birds don’t get them, will develop well and should be ripe for the picking from January onwards. Considering they were almost all ring barked last summer by rabbits and they have only been in for 18mths, I don’t think I have done too badly with keeping them going. Our hope is that they will continue to grow this season without any pruning, and then next season, each of the trees should have a handful of fruit, with a good crop in season 2014/2015.

The market garden is starting to really thrive. In our local climate, we are about 2-3 weeks behind Melbourne’s growing season, however in our makeshift little greenhouse, we managed to get things started and planted nice and early. Our mini-swales on contour are working well and the compost I made and spread made a huge difference to growth rates. We did get a late frost which burnt some of the zucchini leaves. They have made a comeback, however, I am sure they would be much more advanced if not for the frost. All good though as zucchini goes crazy when producing! All our other veggies are coming along well, with new additions to our stock this year, violet cauliflower and chilli, as well as a mixed variety of colourful carrots.

New mains irrigation lines have gone in in preparation for next seasons extension and over half of the market garden is now irrigated, with the rest to be completed as funds come in. The no-dig style potatoes are going well, of all of the seed potatoes, I would estimate that 70% of last season potatoes have sprouted and about 90% of new season seed potatoes taking. There are still more to go in and as work finishes up, I should get more time and energy to finish planting. I have not irrigated them at all however they are well wet enough and I will continue monitoring as the summer approaches.

Our first batch of chicks were hatched two weeks ago and they are all going well. We aim to add another 20 girls to the laying flock and process any excess we have. With our consumption rate, we will need 30 chickens in the freezer for the year. This will add to the 2 lambs and cows we will process through the year. Plenty of protein for a growing family, plus some:-)

So the question is, will we be ready for a farmers market stall in January/February??? The way things are growing… probably not, but will give it a good crack:-)

At work work, things are also pushing along. I have just got formal approval for teaching Permaculture at the school to year 9 and 10’s in 2013 and 2014. We will have a trial year in 2013, but I am sure that in 2014 and beyond, we will be teaching a full Permaculture Design Certificate! Also, work on the swale design orchard has started. With a fall of 1/10, no irrigation and horrible, horrible clay to work with, it will be interesting how well the design works. Last night and this morning we had a decent dump of rain, about 25-30mm of rain in 12 hours. The bottom 3 “speed humps” have been rough cut in and it was amazing to see how in a very raw state, the speed humps slowed the water down and collected so much silt. As the remaining swale/ponds are shaped, this should reduce significantly the erosion that occurs on the site as well as allow for a huge collection of water to infiltrate into the berm.

Things are moving along, plenty of work to do both on farm and at work and as we come to the end of the year, rather than slowing down, it is time to speed up!