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:-)

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:-)

 

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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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!

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:-)

Everyone is sick, but still smiling… well kinda

So the entire household is sick, started with Kobe-Li, then Ava-Li, then Tano-Li, then Hayley and now me… We all share the love in this family, Hayley hasn’t been able to talk for the last week and a half and the kids all have developed a secondary cough. They are getting better, but it is slow and steady at the moment.

With everyone being a bit yuck, it was great to see the weather turn it on for the weekend. It has been an awesome couple of days, with the sun out and a little – tiny – bit of warmth in the air. I had the Saturday morning rituals, cleaning and baking and then an amazing lunch with Ava-Li outside in the sunshine. Everyone came out and we made up for our winter’s dose of vitamin D in one afternoon! It was great to see the sun again after a gloomy, wet, windy and cold winter. While Ava-Li and Hayley were having a nap, the boys and I went out and checked on the apple orchard. 3 out of the 40 were too far gone to recover – rabbits got to the bark before I could get tree guards on – so out, 2 of them came. I grafted another apple – a mystery one from the Principal of the school I work at, it is meant to be the biggest growing apple tree ever, but not sure the name. Both the boys had a great time walking around checking the trees, learning a heck of a lot about apples, grafting and sap flow!

Today was spent preparing the market garden for the coming season. The weeds had taken over and as much as I would have preferred to hand weed, the job was much too big to do in our current state… so out came Lemon with the rotary hoe attachment and I turned all the weeds into the beds. I will be broad forking these beds when my energy levels are back up, to break-up the soil below the beds and help to bond the two levels together. The beds will get a good dose of animal manure, which along with the weeds and straw mulch, will add a huge amount of minerals and organic matter for the worms to munch on. Speaking of worms, they are everywhere! Hopefully the soil turning does not disturb them too much!

For the past 5 weeks I have been adding one 5mx1m no-dig potato bed to the market garden in preparation for an enormous potato harvest this year. They are growing well (I had a little peak) and by the end of the season, the no-dig manures and mulch would have decomposed right down to a rich, fertile compost/soil to plant the next crop. The first harvest of potatoes should be ready by the end of October, very early November, with a regular supply maturing through the summer and into the autumn. Below are photos of the market garden and the no-dig style potato beds, plenty of straw left over from when the cows were munching (full of earthworms!), potatoes on top, dry straw next and then a good layer of composted horse manure from next door. Once they pop through, more straw and another layer of cow, chicken, sheep and alpaca manure! A great mix!

This is a view of the market garden area with the no-dig potato beds in the foreground.

Decomposed hay and cow manure along with tons of earthworms act as a bed for the seed potatoes to sleep on 🙂

Next layer of well aged straw.

And the next layer for now is the final layer. Well aged horse manure. I will sprinkle rock dust on this layer tomorrow night as well as ash from the fire for a potassium injection.

So at the end of the day, I’m stuffed, the family is feeling slightly better, and yes, still smiling 🙂

Tano-Li flying a kite today in the blustery wind just before lunch.

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.