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!

Spring into Sustainability.

(Picture of wicking beds at old house)

Spring is less than a week away, well at least according to the international meteorological definition of the seasons, Spring is in 5 days. However, according to tilt of the Earth and the Sun, the Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere is not until September 22nd. This gives us plenty of time (not) to get prepared for the next season…

The greenhouse has gone on hold while other more pressing matters are tended to, such as the new potato patch and prepping the current market garden for the next season. Tomorrow (Monday) I will be getting 48 dwarfing rootstock for cherries and pears as well as a variety of scion (buds), all of which are heritage varieties. My grafting skills will really be tested here as will my time management. Spring is definitely on it’s way and the buds need to be grafted before buds explode and late winter to very early spring is the time for this. 48 grafts all done at night as well as potting out…. hmmmm may be pushing it a little  but bring it on!

A few years back, I was lucky enough to visit an art gallery to view works by a friend of mine from work (Lou Callow). At this exhibition, Lou introduced me to a friend of hers Tor Roxborough (the gallery owner) and we got talking about life and sustainable living. At the time, we were living at our old house which had been maxed out with productive gardens, aquaponics, fruit trees and a  section of native and indigenous plants. I spoke to her about our life and what we were trying to achieve and enjoyed Lou’s amazing art work. 3 years on and she has contacted me to find out where I am at in life and to ask me to do a talk on food production and sustainable living! The presentation will be on Saturday 6th October between 1:30-3:30pm at the Bacchus Marsh library. The group holding it is called BaccChat, a new group in the Bacchus Marsh area who are organising readings and talks on a variety of topics, the first of which is about food and agricultural production as well as touching on issues of refugees.

I have to say I am honoured to be asked to do this talk and although somewhat nervous about it all, am very excited at the same time!

The link to the first page of my old blog is http://namhaquachinatoraquaponics.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/what-is-aquaponics-i-hear-you-ask-well.html It is pretty long, but if you have a spare moment or three, have a read and make a comment here 🙂

(Picture of the AP system at old house early not long after cycling)

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!

Chicken Eggs and Orchard Planted!

The chickens really love their new home. We have had 2 eggs in 2 days and no doubt will get more as the other two mature. The eggs are a good size, with a great deeply coloured firm yolk. Beautiful flavour! We will start to leave the eggs in the nests after a week, and then hopefully the will go broody and hatch the clutch. If not, mother silkie looks like she is just about to go broody, so we will shove a 1/2 dozen under her and let her do her thing. There is still a steady supply of silkie eggs at the moment, smaller eggs, but packed full of flavour, colour and firmness. Our chickens seem to be a little strange as most other chickens shut down for winter and only come back on the lay near the beginning of spring. Must be all that TLC they get 🙂

Over the past couple of days, we have been blessed with not only the company of some great, great friends, but also their help in planting out our orchard. Annelise and Jason both helped us tirelessly to plant our 52 apple trees, elder berry plants and apricots. Only had to pay them in cups of coffee, not a bad trade really! We managed to get them all in
by nightfall yesterday, along with a good sprinkling of alpaca poo on top! Today we put on the “Ewok” rabbit guards. Jason’s father, Laurie, uses 1″ polypipe split down the middle to protect the bottom 30cms of their trees when they plant. He looks like an Ewok, hence the name. It will be interesting to see if they are effective, and if not, I will replace them with gal mesh.

(Sorry about the dodgy, shaky camera work)

We also planted some potatoes in the kitchen garden and I am testing the theory of using sulphur dust after cutting them. Apparently the sulphur kills off any fungi and helps to stop rot and potatoe diseases. We’ll wait and see what happens. We have put these guys in the kitchen garden as they are not seed potatoes, just a selection of potatoes we have bought at market that we like and saved. The seed potatoes are due in the next week or so, and we will be busy planting them then in our garden “extension”.

Chook Shed and Apple Trees

Finally, the chickens have occupation of their new home, “The Taj”. We still need to paint it and I still need to put a window shutter up, but it is fox proof and they are kept out of the weather. They love their new perches, and took to their new home straight away. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the mice to work out how to get in (hopefully never). There are a couple of little holes that I will plug up tomorrow, but all in all, I think it is rodent proof (touch wood). It was finished today and although I didn’t mind working in gail force winds and sleet rain, I’m not sure it is something I will make a regular occurrence.

I also picked up the first lot of plants for our orchard today. I stuffed up our order and instead of 40 trees, we got 38… dang it! I somehow left 2 off the order. Oh well not to worry, I am sure 38 will keep us busy enough for a while. They are broken up into 5 harvest seasons: late December to early February we have “Beauty of Bath”, “Tydeman’s Early Worcester”, “Irish Peach” and “Gravenstein”. From February to March we have “Somerset Red Streak”, “Worcester Pearmain”, “James Grieve” and “Keswick Codlin”. From March to April we have “Cox’s Orange Pippin”, “Fortune (Laxton’s Fortune)”, “Golden Delicious” and “Jonagold”. In April to May we have “Bramley’s Seedling”, “Cornish Aromatic”, “Court of Wick” and  “Pink Lady”. And finally from May through to June/July we have “Braeburn”, “Rokewood” and “Yates”. I also picked up “Autumn Bliss” raspberries to plant to go in the berry patch. This will complement the different varieties of strawberries as well as the other raspberries we have. The whole idea of it is to prolong our harvest season as best we can, with different varieties of both berries and apples.

This is only the first lot of plants we are getting for the orchard, next year, we hope to put in stone fruit, being different varieties of peaches, plums and cherries, once again, trying to extend the harvest season with a variety of herritage species.

So a busy day tomorrow (as always) but should be heaps of fun with some help from some great friends and the rest of the family 🙂

Reports and Ripping.

I am usually a very patient and calm person. No no, really I am… but today tested my patience to breaking point. I should be at it now, writing the rest of my reports, but alas, I am not, rather, I am waiting for the report program to respond to my “saving” request so that I do not lose the ones that I have completed… like what happened earlier in the day! Hmmm, no use complaining about it I guess, as they won’t get done any quicker (but it does make me feel better temporarily, that is until I have to get back to them again…)

While I was cursing away at the computer (well in my head, Julie was around so I didn’t want her to hear some of the words and curses that I made up), Vern was out on the tractor ripping up the orchard, the potato patch and the berry patch. The orchard is somewhere in the vicinity of 3/4 – 1 acre, the potato patch is about 20m X 30m and the berry patch is about 30m x 10m. We still need to rototill the potato and berry patch, rest it for 2 weeks, rototill again and then put in our potatoes and berries. This will help kill the weeds and not give them too much of a chance to re-establish. The worm life in the soil was fantastic, with worms everywhere! Always a good sign of soil health! To say that Vern enjoyed himself is a little bit of an understatement. And the little grey Fergie “Lemon”, well she performed beautifully!

Click on the links below to watch Vern and Lemon at work! You can see our alpacas, sheep and cows in the background, all wondering when Vern is going down there to feed them!

PS: Please excuse the wind noise and dodgey camera work!

The Orchard Digging Begins

The orchard was plotted out the other day and despite being one handed, I decided to start digging the holes today. Even though the post hole digger is here, after last week, I am a bit scared to say the least, so out came the shovel.

Digging one handed is a bit tricky so I decided to enlist some child labour … I mean help.

Once the holes have been dug to about 500mm deep and 500mm wide, I will backfill with cow, sheep and alpaca poo mixed with the dirt. This will sit and decompose away for the next few months ready for the bare-root stock! Only 2 holes dug so far, the help is a bit slow, but fun to watch 😉

25 fruit trees will go in this plot, most likely apples with another 25 stones fruit trees to go in another plot. There is also some room for about 20-30 cherry trees to go in.

May need to invest in a ripper as well…ummmm more toys to hurt myself … I mean work with 🙂