How To Store Potatoes When You Have No Space

We don’t have have a shed (yet), or a basement, cellar or even a room that’s cool enough in our house to store bulk potatoes. In the past we’ve lined our loungeroom floor with boxes of potatoes with blankets on top, however inevitabley they get too hot and end up sprouting too quicky and/or go soft before they should.

Potatoes like to be stored in a cool, dark place whereas we only have warm, light spaces available in our house. This year we grew around 60kgs of potatoes and would like them to last longer than previous years. So after asking our very kind social media community for ideas, we’ve settled on the no-frills recycled filing cabinet!

Our requirements were that it had to be rodent proof, weather proof and compact – the humble filing cabinet does all these things. After a trip to our local tip shop, we collected two filing cabinets and set them up near our back door which has juuuust enough space and eave coverage to make it ok for them to last there for a season or two.

Before storing the potatoes, I made sure they had at least a few days in the open air drying – you really don’t want to be putting in damp spunds into a small space – bad things will happen. I just had  them in stacks of old milk crates with a blanket over them for a few days.

Back to the filing cabinet… Before loading them up with potaotes, I added some cardboard sides to prevent the spuds from falling out the sides and added a layer of paper on the bottom.

I also sorted through all the potatoes and removed all the ones with “wounds” from my garden fork – we’ll just eat these ones first.

I then started layering in the spuds….

After each layer, I added a sheet of paper to help absorb any moisture – just in case.

Finally, I added one apple per drawer on the top layer. Thanks to members of our social media community, I now know that apples emit ethylene gas which apparently prevents spuds from sprouting. Slightly counter-intuitive as ethylene gas is known to aid ripening some fruits. But after some research across the internet, I’m convinced to give it a go.

The last stage was to place find them a home near our boots, raincoats, bike helmets and pumpkins. This is the coolest microclimate we have for them. It faces south, gets no direct sun at all and is mostly weather proof (sometimes we get sideways rain).

All up, we’re feeling pretty good about the whole thing and will use this system for the next season or two while we build our multifunctional shed with great food storage, including a large cool cupboard.

Special thanks to our friendly social media community for helping us out when I was scratching my head about what to do!

 

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DIY Worm Farms for Tiny, Medium & Large Gardens

At our recent Real SKills for Growing Food workshop at Fat Pig Farm, Nadia (their head market gardener) joined our teaching team and gave us all a tour of three worm farms for tiny, medium and large gardens. While we currently haven’t got a worm farm set up at our own place (we will soon), we’ve kept them quite a lot in the past and have written about their many benefits here. 

But just quickly, compost worms are different to the common earthworm you see in your lawn… Compost worms are red wrigglers and tiger worms – you can buy these from nurseries, but you can usually find them at your local school/community garden if you ask nicely. Do not put the common earth worm into a worm farm – they will die.

Compost worms in mature worm castings – soooo good!

When compared to the parent soil (the original soil), worm castings (the worm’s poo) have approximately:

  • 7 times the available phosphorous
  • 6 times the available nitrogen
  • 3 times the available magnesium
  • 2 times the available carbon
  • 1.5 times the available calcium

(‘Earthworms in Australia’, David Murphy, pg 26)

Pretty impressive! The good news is that pretty much anyone can keep worms – whether you have a balcony garden or a paddock. Here’s how. 

The worm farm tower

The smallest type of worm farm we know of is dead easy to make yourself. There are quite a few methods, this is one of our favourite. All you need is a 20 litre bucket with a lid. Drill holes in the side (covering around 2/3 of the bucket), the bottom and a few in the lid. These holes are there to let the worms come in and out, as well as air and small amounts of moisture.

Bury the bucket into the garden bed, or into a raised bed on your balcony/courtyard. You want to have at least 2/3 of it buried – basically the area which has all the holes drilled into it.

Add some moist straw/mulch and a big handful of worms (with mature worm castings) into the bottom of the bucket and then add a small amount of food waste (not shown).

Keep the lid on top to control moisture (from possible rain) and to help create a mostly sealed bucket (with the exception of those holes) which will help prevent rodents getting to the food scraps. And that’s it – so easy and so effective in making delicious compost for your garden insitu. The worms travel in and out of the bucket, spreading the nutrients to the area immediately around it.

Once you’re bucket’s full of food waste, let it rest so you allow the worms to eat it all. In this time, you can start a second worm tower, or use another type of compost system as well.

The bathtub worm farm

For those that have a bit more space and food scraps, you can make your own worm farm from a bathtub and timber frame. I’m quite fond of this method as its rodent proof (with the addition of a lid), you can catch the worm wee out of the drainage hole which is beautiful fertiliser for the garden (dillute it 10:1 with water before watering), and if you want to, you add a timber lid which can then double as a work bench! You can also store pots and other gardening materials beneath the tub. So good.

To get started, biuld a timber frame that can support your bath and then create a false floor as seen below. This will help the whole farm drain liquid into a waiting bucket.

Next up, add a layer of straw, followed by a healthy layer of worms and mature worm castings. You can then start adding food for the worms, including leafy greens, coffee, animal manures (not cats) and food scraps (go easy on citrus, onions and meat).

Put a blanket of hessian or ink-free cardboard on top and water it in. Once water starts coming out the drainage hole, that’s enough. The hessian helps maintain an even temperaature and moisture levels inside the farm.

Finally, add a protective lid on top to keep out rain and rodents. Nadia uses some corflute on a timber frame for her lid.

As I mentioned earlier, you could built a timber lid into your frame which can then double as a bench top. *OR* you can lower the height of the whole thing and turn it into a seat for your garden as we did below on one of our past permaculture design courses. Cool hey! You can read all about it over here. 

The windrow worm farm

This is one we’re really excited about as it’s sooooo low-tech and sooooo effective in processing large amounts of food waste. As Fat Pig Farm have an onsite restaurant, there’s a lot of food scraps coming back into the garden to be composted. Recently, Nadia and friends built what I call a windrow worm farm and we’re thoroughly impressed with the speed of scraps being processed (8 weeks) into nutrient-dense worm castings.

It’s simply a pile of hay or straw in a small, long mound. Food scraps are added to one end of it with moisture and a tarpoline on top. Every few days, take the tarpoline off and – using a garden fork, casually mix the food scraps in to make sure they’re getting processed evenly.

Slowly, you move along the windrow, adding more food scraps and letting the “full” area behind you be processed by the worms.

The worms will naturally follow the food, so most of them will move along the row as you move along the fresh injection of food scraps.

Nadia also makes sure that she puts in some crushed eggshells to provide grit for the worms – this helps the worms digest organic matter and adds calcium to the system.

After 8 weeks, Nadia harvests mature worm castings for her garden. There are still some compost worms in there, but it doesn’t matter if some find their way into her *beautiful* market garden, they’ll be more than happy there.

The only down side to this system is that you can’t harvest the worm juice. But really the benefits far outway this, and of course, you could build this system uphill or a productive garden which would benefit from the natural leachate – which is what Nadia has done.

If you’d like to see more examples of worm farms, have a read of one of our older blogs here. 

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How to preserve tomatoes using the fowler vacola system

There are *many* variations on how to preserve tomatoes, this is how we do it using the fowler vacola system. If you have a better way, we’re very happy to hear about it :-).

We don’t have enough space to grow all the tomatoes we would like to preserve in our garden as we prioritise growing a diverse range of crops, meaning the tomatoes we do grow are for eating fresh only. So when Autumn comes around we buy a big stash of tomoatoes from a local grower (it’s different every year). This year, I got a little carried away and bought 60kgs worth – cause being able to crack open a jar of tomatoes in the middle of winter or spring is one of the better things in life. I have my priorities right.

First step in the whole process is get a mate (or mates) over and start chopping – it’s a great way to catch up with dear friends.

The second step involved us realising/remembering we could just use the fancy food processer my sister recently passed on to me. While a bit noisy, this was infinitely quicker – we loved it.

Because our tomatoes were a bit on the funky side, we chose to put them in a large pot and bring them to the boil to get rid of any unwanted bacteria.

If you’re using fresh tomatoes you don’t have to cook them before putting them into the jar. You can chop or whiz them up and place them directly into the jar you’re storing them in. You can see how our friends over at Milkwood do it here.  

UPDATE: (April 2nd, 2018). A community service announcement from our expereince of whizzing them up in our food processer and NOT cooking them before we put them into our jars. We’re not 100% sure why, but around a week or so after they were completed the jars that hadn’t been pre-cooked popped their lids and started going mouldy. The tomatoes we whizzed up and pre-cooked before putting them in the jars are currently fine – however they’ve seperated into liquids and solids within the jar so look strange. I opened one to see if it was going funky and it was fine, but we’re keeping an eye on them. Our conclusion is that whizzing them up in our particular food processer seems to have given them a strange consistency. Maybe if we used purley sauce tomatoes this wouldn’t happen? We’re not sure – but felt we had to tell you. For now, we’re back to chopping, pre-cooking (just bringing them to the boil) and THEN putting them into tjars and water canning them as outlined below as we knoe this works fantastically…

After we had bought it to the boil, we took it off the heat, let it cool down (so it was easy to handle) and filled the jars. The fowler vacola lid involves putting a thick rubber preserving ring on the glass rim, then the metal lid and finally the two clips to keep it all together.

Once you’ve filled your jars, put them in a large pot. We hapen to have a fowler vacola pot (from the op shop), it has an inbuilt false floor so the glass jars aren’t directly touching the bottom of the pot. If you don’t have one, you can use any large pot – in the past I’ve put a whole bunch of cutlery on the bottom of the pot to act as a false floor and sat the jars on top of them – this works fine.

Once the jars are all tucked in, fill the pot up with water to around 3/4 of the jar’s height. Then bring it to the boil on the stove. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a healthy simmer for around 40 mintues.

After this you’re finished! Take them out of the pot and keep the clamps on for another 12 hours or so to make sure the heat seal has worked.

Remove the clips and add them to your shelves/pantry/kitchen cupboards. Only once our pantry shelves are full do we feel like we can enter winter with our heads held high.

And I’ll just leave you with a photo of our daughter with one of our home grown toms (unknown variety), because – well, love.

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Zucchini Baba Ganoush

For everyone looking for something new to do with your zucchini glut – I’m pleased to be able to introduce you to  zucchini baba ganoush. It’s actually awesome and is a wonderful recipe to add to your “dealing with heaps of zucchini” tool kit.

This is a great recipe as you can use both small and large zucchinis, plus you can use dozens of zucchinis in one batch without becoming overwhelmed with the end product as they cook down significantly. Here’s how it works.

Step one

Roughly chop up your large zucchiniz into large chunks. You can leave the smaller zucchinis whole and just chuck them onto some oven dishes with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. If you’re using really large zucchinis with mature seeds inside – scrape these out and put them in the compost.

Step Two

Put them into the oven at 200 degrees. You want them to get charred on each side, so turn them every 20mts – 30mts (or as needed). This process can take around 2 hours to get them evenly “burnt”. The charred, burnt flavour is delicious and actually tastes like eggplants (I think).

Step three

Gather some desired flavours together. At least have garlic and a bit more salt – we also like adding paprika.

Put everything into a food processor and give it a big whiz until it’s all creamy looking.

Step four

Pop it into a bowl and serve up with carrot sticks or some delicious olive oil crackers – it’s that easy!

Special thanks to Sadie from Fat Pig Farm for sharing this recipe with us – it’s changed our current view on zucchini :-)!

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CalPhos Nutrient Solution

CalPhos nutrient solution for your garden. This is a new thing for me, so new I haven’t even tried it yet. A very talented and lovely grower, Nadia Danti who manages Fat Pig Farm’s market garden shared this receipe and photos with me recently after I visited her and I think every keen grower needs to know about it.

In the words of The Unconventional Farmer… 

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CalPhos  is a nutrient solution for plants just entering the flowering cycle. There is an overlapping activity of Phosporous and Potassium during flowering. In natural farming, we apply calphos before the flower initiation to support the eventual fruit. In simplistic terms, we use Phosphorous to address the root system, which will enable the plant to access better water and nutrients from the soil to support the critical changeover as manifested by flower initiation. We use Calcium to strengthen the plant in preparation for heavy flowers/fruits. Thus, natural farming emphasizes Phosphorus and Calcium during the changeover period from growing to flowering/fruiting, and this provides for that need.

There’s always so much to learn isn’t there! Nadia shared her recipe with me (and you), so you too can make your own out of ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen – it’s that easy.

Step 1

Gather eggshells. Usually chicken eggs are used, but you could also use oyster shells or bones – anything with high levels of calcium.

Step 2

Roughly grind them up in a mortar and pestle, or the bottom of a cup in a large bowl.

Step 3

Toast the shells in your fry pan or on the bbq until some of the shells start turning black. The charred black shells are the phosphorus and white/brown shells are the calcium.

Step 4

Put shells into a glass jar along with apple cide vinegar, 1 parts shells to 5 parts vinegar.

Step 5

The mix will start to bubble (this is a good thing), once this stops, seal the jar and leave it to ferment for 20 days.

Step 6

After 20 days, strain and filter the liquid.

Step 7

Use on your flowering/fruiting plants! 1 tbs calphos to 4L of water.

In a world where the general approach to growing food is to spray it with this, that and everything (think chemical fertilisers), useful tools like this one that ensure optimum plant health and nutritioun levels are gold – solid gold!

Want to know more? Have a good rummage around The Unconvetional Farmer’s website for some highly useful info!

 

 

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Deep Breath Out

It’s been a busy December. Life is always full, but with the end of the year it’s been particularly brain-squishing, use all the hours in the day and borrow some from the night type of busy. Hence, not quite making it to this blog – sorry about that.

But here we are. Slowly breathing out and relishing some quality time tending to our gardens and animals. Because at the end of the day it all comes back to land, life and love for us. Today I have no “how to” blog for you, just a deep sigh, breathing out

To get grounded we garden. This past weeks there have been numerous jam making sessions, fresh berries picked, cordial made and bread baked. There have been beans, greens, garlic, eggs, goats milk and honey harvested, preserved, eaten and gifted. It’s such a rich time of the year here.

Nasturtium seeds are harvested, on their way to becoming capers. They’re delicious.

This morning while picking black currants, I momentarily lost my daughter in the orchard – our comfrey is so tall she can get lost in there. What a good thing – soon this comfrey will get slashed down as mulch for the surrounding trees and within weeks, news comfrey will pop up, continuing the cycle.

Our orchard of medlars, apples, apricots are all getting big and teasing us with their imminent greatness.

As you can see below, baby Jilly Love Face isn’t so baby any more. She’s growing beautifully, is hilarious and can go from standing still to jumping over a metre high – she’s very impressive, as is her amazing mum who provides milk every morning for our sustenance.

The five baby chooks Anton and Frida picked up from the side of the road stall are thriving, so far we think we have only one rooster, which would be a miracle!

Squashing berries and currants (below) for summer wine and champagne (it was amazing) is a glorious activity – highly recommend it.

And surprise deliveries of japanese turnips form the Hobart City Farm, means we get settled into the kitchen and chop, chop, chop – making kim chi galore for numerous gifting.

And as the last day of 2017 comes to an end I am grateful that we have such amazing projects and people in our lives and that are only trouble is keeping up with it all. And I’m hopeful for a 2018 that’s full of healthy challenges and good land, good people and ultimately more good life.

 

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The Future Of Tasmania

Recently, I was invited to write an article for Island magazine around the theme ‘The Future of Tasmania’ and what I would like it to look like… Here’s what I wrote…

As a gardener, permaculture educator and landscape designer, when I think about the future of Tasmania, this little island at the bottom of the world with clean air, water, decent soils and rainfall – I think about agriculture and our relationship to this spectacular landscape.

Once upon a time the First Nations people of Australia managed this country as a whole for 10s of thousands of years. Like mainland Australia, the Palawa people used fire-stick farming to hunt animals, manage soil health and regenerate the land. Without a doubt they were some of the most sophisticated and successful agriculturalists ever.

Right now agriculture in Tasmania is predominantly based on the same model most of the world is following – big is better, monoculture focused and export orientated. However around the edges of this is an industry of small growers and producers in both urban and rural contexts offering up some of the best food and produce in the world. As an unwritten rule, they’re organic (certified or not), sell a significant portion of their produce within Tasmania and have a strong connection to their community.

Another general rule is that, with a few exceptions, they’re financially just scrapping by as they compete with big business. While small agriculture might ultimately be better for our environment and communities, it doesn’t always stand up to the current reality where lack of government support and debt can cripple enterprises. Something needs to change.

Lets jump ahead 100 years where agriculture is radically changed. There’s an over-riding manifesto of how people do agriculture and it goes something like this…

The whole island is organic due to the necessity of needing to look after natural resources.

Central to education is how we relate to our landscape. Farmers or not, we all know the basics, that without a healthy earth we’re stuffed. No one’s trying to commodify or ravage it – it’s simply not an option.

A significant portion of all cultivated land is under perennial food crops providing high yields and health for our soils and ground water. Annual crops are still grown, but in appropriate sized patches amongst a perennial landscape.

For meat, we no longer only farm livestock such as cows, sheep and pigs, but have also fully embraced sustainably harvesting wild wallabies, possums and the like for protein and for population control. Livestock are grazed beneath large nut orchards and no landscape is put under monoculture crops as everyone knows this only provides short-term gain, which just isn’t good enough any more.

Interstate trade and exporting of produce still happens, but only with a strong filter of sound ethics and only once Island folk are catered for. No one eats crap, processed food as it was phased out rapidly in the 2030s once the health effects were too bad to ignore.

Land ownership is more fluid with people being able to access land without having to go into debt. And while there might still be fences to contain livestock, we manage landscapes as a whole, just like the Palawa people once did.

And at the end of the day in this future of ours, when you look across this spectacular landscape, your heart will beat loud knowing that you’re part of it.

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Farming Insects For Food

I recently interviewed Louise Morris from *almost launched* Rebel Food Tasmania who farm (and will soon sell) a range of insects as delicious and nutritious food. Read on to find out what she and Rebel Food are up to…

Who is Rebel Food and what are you up to?

Rebel Food Tasmania is a new enterprise farming insects as human food. We’re doing things our way and a bit out of the ordinary as we’re working to a local food economy vision. We grow small herds in small spaces that we hope will have a big impact on food, reducing food waste, provide a new business in regional Tasmania, and bringing a new premium product to the Tasmanian food scene.

Farming and eating insects isn’t a new thing. Right now insect products are being sold in supermarkets in Europe, the USA and are starting to take hold in Australia. And of course, let’s not forget that 80% of the global population eats insects as a normal part of their diet. While most of our processed food stuffs like store bought bread, have insects just from the realities of factory and kitchen processes plus food regulations allow some trace insect in commercial foods.

We are in the minority overlooking this source of nourishment.

This past year we’ve been taking a fair bit of time to test our theories, learning about the best feed stocks and testing our insect end products with people who have expertise in nutrition, taste and what works out in the world. It’s a big adventure, and so far we have been overwhelmed by the interest of other people and businesses who are interested in putting bugs on the menu.

Mealworms with native pepperberry and coffee

When it comes to protein production, how is farming insects better for our landscapes than farming larger livestock? 

There is a lot of media going around about insects being the super sustainable protein source of the future. The ability to farm these little critters in small spaces with minimal water, and on food waste is an amazing opportunity.

That said we are also very mindful that what is used to power the temperature control systems is a major component of the energy and financial sustainability equation. It also needs to be named upfront that vertical farming systems can become intensive farming systems if done just for money, which does not do any favours to the animals being raised or those of us eating the food

includes using fairly run of the mill feed sources, such as commercial chicken feed and other highly processed commercial cereal mixes to get them fat and fried as quickly as possible. This flies in the face of producing a nourishing or sustainable insect based food, so we’re doing it our way – with fresh food, a bit of extra time and attention to learnings.

Part of the reason for doing a long period of research and development is to make sure we can actually grow and breed insects from farm and food waste. Housed in temperature controlled systems that are viable and run on renewable energy, and that we are sure of both the quality of the insects on the plate, and that insect farming in Tasmania is a long term viable addition to the Local Food Economy.

Crickets in a tub

What insects are you farming and which one’s your favourite to eat at the moment?

The primary focus is on the domestic cricket (Acheta domesticus), for a flour product that can be included into foodstuffs in the longer term, and also to supply some early adopter restaurants in here Tasmania and Sydney for bespoke bugs on their menu.

To add a bit of interest and variety, mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and wood roaches (Parcoblatta pensylvanica) are also being grown because, well – why not?! Not to mention they all taste pretty great.

As part of the research and development period, we are fact checking whether it’s true that the insects take on some of the flavour profiles of what they have been eating. Short answer, yes they do.

During pumpkin season and the apple season there was a detectable sweeter edge. Wine marc was an absolute winner for plumper, sweeter crickets (maybe a bit drunk too, who knows) while coffee grounds with mustard leaf is still a reliable foundation feed for giving a spicy edge. Not to mention carrots and root vegetables, they love the carrots as a moisture and food source.

In terms of cooking them up: I’m really enjoying whole crickets as part of dishes, and doing a lot of cricket flour inclusions into baked goods. I’m loving the cooking experiments with mealworms as they have a slight cheesy end taste to them which rounds off dishes beautifully. The surprise of the cooking experiments has been using woodies, they are umami powerhouses. A little bit goes a very long way.

Do they really taste good or do you have to drown then in soy sauce before eating them?

One of my bugbears (excuse the pun), is seeing insects served up that have just had the S#*t fried out of them. This means you lose all the taste profiles, not to mention much of the nutritional benefits of eating insects. I’ve had a few examples of insects presented as a dish where it was just texture and oil. Cook anything like that and it all tastes the same, fried.

An easy introductory way to cook up your first batch of crickets is a bit of sesame oil, in a pan. Throw them in there for a quick fry, add some sesame seeds, and after a minute or so add them to a good salad or Asian veggie type dish, squirt with a bit of lemon and you’re away. They’re also good with avocado, as the crispy savoury element bounces off that creamy avocado base.

What type of environment are they grown in?

Good time to ask as we’re in scale up and future planning, so this is in flux. One system is a shed that is temperature controlled, the other of our test systems is a strawbale room that is not heated, but uses the polished concrete/window/insulation warmth as the temperature control. This is going remarkably well.

Living quarters for crickets consist of large tubs filled with places for them to hide (mostly egg cartons and large brassica leaves at this stage of the season), and as they get older the boys make lots of noise as they chirp and flirt…crickets are mad flirts!

Tasmanian native Pepperberry infused crickets

What’s the role of the Insect Protein Association? 

The IPAA is the industry representative body for those involved in the insect protein business either as food or animal feed producers. We’re working to develop strong industry standards and frameworks to build a long-term viable insect industry for human food and animal feed. Industry wide standards in labelling, practice and transparency that people can trust, produces quality products and has a voice in legislative and regulatory areas to advocate for the little herds that can make a big impact on how agriculture is done.

When can people start buying your product?

We’re looking to be on menus at select Tasmanian and Sydney restaurants early 2018 with bespoke insects grown for their needs. We will be doing targeted events where the importance of flavour and how the insects are grown is part of the story, while scaling up our systems to be making clean, green Tasmanian grown cricket flour as a key ingredient people can incorporate into their everyday dishes.

Will you ship nationally and internationally through your website?

We are pretty focused on making sure we do things right, and that means not getting too big too fast. We will have national distribution options via our webpage and as our production systems grow, we will grow with that. A key for us at this point is not trying to take over the world, but to have a viable farming system that creates a meaningful and viable addition to our food system, is an efficient use of food waste to make more food, and above all produces a delicious high quality product.

Baked tapioca & cricket flour crackers with sesame seeds

Where to from here?

One of the big jobs for the next 6 months is to secure funds to scale up to larger facilities and fine tune our climate control systems, and of course the renewable energy mix supplying them. As we grow, and the bugs grow, we will keep trialling new options of feeding them with veggie farm and food waste to see what is the best food source available for each season. This is one of the most fun aspects of the whole entoprise (pardon the pun), finding new feed sources and new options for increasing efficiency and quality of the insects.

Oh, and did I mention insect frass (their poo)is a great addition to compost?! I am using the frass as part of the compost and veggie patch at home to see how it works on all the seasonal crops we grow and our fruit trees. So far it’s been a winner, with the frass compost tea being a pungent and powerful brew. The insects also get the fruits of their work back from our vegetable patch system. They have many a leafy green, broad bean, apple, squash, and whatever else is in season incorporated into their feed.

Early Adopters

We have some early adopters on the mainland and here in Tasmania including Meru Miso who are trialling fermenting our insects, Quartermasters Arms who have used all three of our insects species in pop up events and some of our state’s best restaurants ready to incorporate insects into their menu – as soon as we are public and launched. It’s all a bit exciting, and a bit overwhelming!

Keep an eye out for Rebel Food and their launch in late 2017. You can follow them on Instagram, and see a bit of the behind the scenes functions of insect farming, some of their foody experiments in using the insects in food (not deep fried) and general entomophagy goings on.

  • You can also listen to Louise on ABC Radio talking farming and eating insects here. 
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How To Landscape A Steep Slope

In mid 2016 we bought the neighbouring patch of weedy/bush land we’d been drooling over for 4 years; and at the beginning of 2017, we started shaping it to include a driveway and more garden/animal space. We’d been drooling over this steep landscape as up until early 2017 the only way into our property was by walking up a very steep, 100m rocky staircase from the road. We had always wanted to buy the neighbouring land to improve access – it just took 4 years to get it done.

When we started earthworks, the view from our house overlooking the new land looked like this.

As our land is very steep, we knew straight away that we wanted to terrace it, inline with what we had already done in our existing garden. So the whole site was cleared, with the green waste taken to the local tip site where the Hobart Council composts it in large hot piles and sells it back to the community.

While we would have LOVED more flat ground, we couldn’t afford to build retaining walls everywhere. Instead, we designed large earth banks with an angle of approximately 30 degrees. Like our current garden, we planned on using these as edible forest gardens and the flat terraces for annuals crops and animals.

After the machine had shaped these terraces, we used hardwood timber from a local sawmill sight to help define and stabilise the edges…

…And a hell-of-a-lot of heat treated pallets to stabilise the earth banks. This techniques has been a real game changer for us in steep slope gardening, as the pallets provide lots of ledges to plant into, making it easier for plants to get established. It’s also easier to irrigate and passively harvest rain, as water is slowed down (a little bit), instead of quickly rushing down each bank.

Around this time, Anton’s day (Gote) sailed his boat down from NSW, parked in the local bay and would come up every day to build a rock wall, dig holes and just be his marvellous, eccentric Swedish self. All the rock came from onsite and was simply rearranged to build our one and only retaining wall :-).

Gote on the far right reclining on his rock wall. 

We then very quickly broadcast a mix of green manure seeds directly on the banks in late Autumn to get things growing. This included red clover, mustard, lupins and rye grass.

Early winter with green manure crops thriving

A couple of times throughout Winter, we’d slash the green manures down – delaying them going to flower/seed so we could get more root growth and more benefits for the soil.

In early Spring, we let the banks go to flower for which the bees thanked us (they loooooved it in there) and covered the future annual beds in non-toxic, UV stablised black plastic to break down the green manure crops without having to dig *at all*.

The black plastic was left on there for around 6 weeks in which time all the green growth died back and the soil biology ate it up.

Today (Oct 31 2017), the view from our window onto our new patch of land looks like the photo below…..

There are thousands of annual veggie plants on the flat terrace you can see and another above this (out of shot).

We have two toggenburg goats, Gerty and Jilly Love Face who moved in just over 2 weeks ago. Gerty provides 1.5L – 2L of milk every morning and Jilly Love Face (who’s 3 weeks old) provides enormous entertainment.

The chook house has been moved to be with the goat run and we’ve planted 20 hazelnuts and 10 mixed trees into the earth banks. Currently the earth banks still have remnants of Winter’s green manure crops. We’ve started cutting and dropping them in place as mulch and will be planting floral and edible shrubs, plus perennial herbaceous layers into the bank over the next year to form an edible forest garden.

Baby hazelnut trees popping up amongst the green manures. 

In between each nut and fruit tree, we transplanted tagasaste (tree lucerne) seedlings that self-seed in the local bush/weedy land behind our property. These nitrogen-fixing small trees are quick growers and will provide benefits to the soil and fodder for our chooks and goats. Eventually they’ll be chopped down once the nut and fruit trees mature and need more space.

Baby tagasaste seedling

And the goats are truly glorious. You can see them below on one of their daily walks and amongst the many daily cuddles we have. Obviously there’s still a long way to go with our property, and more time required before we see mature trees, but today (or this morning at least) I’m just pausing and reflecting on the past 10 months and *really* enjoying the change of view from our window.

 

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The Wheelie Bin Compost Toilet

We recently visited a house with the most beautiful wheelie bin compost toilet. It’s designed to be inside the house, is smell-free, beautiful (in my opinion) and super easy to use. All the good things.

The wheelie bin’s hidden with a timber framework that opens up so you can roll the bin out when needed. 

Making a wheelie bin compost toilet is nothing new, we’ve seen and done it quite a few times in various locations across Australia. I think the first time I saw it done was around 2002 at a cranking music festival, since then I’ve seen them everywhere, from share houses to farms to urban homes . After trialling *many* compost toilet designs over the past 15 years this is by far my favourite DIY version. Mainly because it’s the easiest to use – specifically, you don’t have to handle any poo buckets at all and instead of lifting, you just wheel the full (heavy) bin out of the way and replace it with a new one when ready.

So how is it done?

There are quite a few variations in how to build a wheelie bin compost toilet, for this blog I’m outlining how these people did it for their context. They used a smaller 120 litre wheelie bin so it would fit inside their house. Often bins are placed *under* a house that’s already raised off the ground, so people usually use full size 240 litre bins. This wasn’t an option here.

The main thing you need to do is add a false floor (for aeration and drainage) and a drainage pipe to the wheelie bin (to get the wee out of the bin).

To create a false floor, these folks used spacers which are really strong plastic supports that hold up a metal frame. Unfortunately they forgot to take a photo of the metal frame they made, but they used some strong recycled mesh (you need to make sure it wont bend under weight) they found at the local tip shop with 2 inch holes and covered it with porous garden shade cloth that lets the liquid through but no solids.

Looking into the bin, you can see two spacers ready to support the false floor. You can also see the drainage hole covered with shade cloth. 

The drainage pipe to get the wee out of the bin is made by drilling a hole into the bin as close to the bottom of the bin as possible. They used half inch and 3/4 inch poly fittings to create the leak-proof joiner bits (that’s my non-technical term for them). On the inside they also covered the pipe with additional shade cloth *just in case* any solids do make it through the false floor. You really don’t want the pipe to get clogged and have wee backing up in the toilet.

The drainage pipe covered with shade cloth with a spacer next to it.

The half inch and 3/4 inch poly fittings used to create a leak-proof join.

On the outside of the bin they added a ball valve tap (you can see its red handle below) and connected it to a standard garden hose that runs out through the floor*. The ball valve means that when the bin’s full and you need to move it, you simply turn the tap to off to prevent any wee coming out while you’re wheeling it out.

*Once out through the floor the hose connects to a blue line poly pipe that runs under ground and into an infiltration trench down hill – more on that soon. 

The drainage pipe leaving the bin

To prevent any smell occurring two things are done. The first is a small amount of sawdust is added every time someone does a poo (not wee), this strong carbon ingredient counters the rich nitrogen poo – neutralising it.

In addition to this they added a small fan that’s built into the lid of the toilet, so you don’t even see it (unless you lift it up like I did). This is a standard 240 volt bathroom fan, these guys are connected to mains power but you could also use a fan connected to a 12 volt solar system if you’re off-grid.

The fan hidden under the lid  Me trying to take a photo showing how the whole lid can lift up. The fan is at the back of the lid, directly below the blue cylinder (which is functioning as a splash back for wee. 

Where does all the wee end up?

Great question. After leaving the house, it travels in a pipe under ground downhill into a subsurface infiltration trench that runs on contour for around 20 metres. We’re told that this trench is a large empty cavity that’s created with a plastic framework that’s wrapped in geo fabric to prevent any soil getting in.

Downhill of this hidden infiltration trench are some fruit trees who happen to love the nitrogen-rich wee seeping into their root zone. All these trees are thriving.

My feet, standing on top of the very invisible infiltration trench.

One of their happy fruit trees getting ready to fruit. 

One more really important detail for this design.

Is that they included a door in their bathroom so they don’t have to wheel the full bin through their kitchen to get it out of the house – how clever. Instead they wheel it straight out the bathroom door and a further 1.5m to a flat holding bay where it sits for up to 12 months. In this time they’ll put some compost worms into the bin to help process the humanure, turning it into a beautifully smelling compost that’s eventually added onto their orchard.

The act of composting is one of my favourite things to do and think about. Whether you’re composting food scraps, garden waste or your own poo, it’s all doing the same thing… Harnessing a waste product that’s ultimately becoming pollution in the mainstream waste system and turning it into a valuable resource. You’re turning it into a solution that feeds depleted, or hungry soils that can then support nutritious food production or, feck – even just to support a healthy planet! Composting is the act of supporting life, long beyond our own.

Fantastic resource

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