Posts from the ‘Agriculture’ category

Hobart City Farm’s 2nd Growing Season Is Go!

The Hobart City Farm is coming into its second growing season – and jeeze, it’s looking fine. Over winter, this little farm has had a rest, allowing some of the team to continue building infrastructure, tweak and refine systems – all to make sure this coming growing season *cranks*. And crank it will.

Their online shop is due to open in mid October, if you want to be one of the very lucky ducks to eat this organically grown produce then you can register your interest HERE. It operates on a first in basis, so don’t be slow!

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Spring onions and radishes – integrating a range of crops into the same bed strategically is an efficient (and beautiful) use of space and time, ensuring you get the highest yield possible out of the available area.

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One of the exciting new additions to the farm is the very fantastic washing station. This is where all produce is cleaned efficiently and thoroughly. Made from mostly recycled materials, this is a must have for the market gardener – having the right set up can literally save hours of time.
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The hot house is a space for propagation (you can see tomatoes above) and for in-ground grow beds. Soon those tarps you can see in the background will come off to make way for around 150 tomato plants to grow high!

You can get your hands on some of these heirloom tomato seedlings at the upcoming Community Garage Sale, this October 22nd at the Hobart Tip Shop from 10am – 2pm.

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While a market garden is based on annual crops, this space has also integrated a loooong perennial bed around one edge of the Farm. This allows the team to grow a large range of beneficial and edible flowers to attract pollinators to the garden as well as grow additional crops like herbs, comfrey, mashua, rhubarb and more. I believe every market garden should include something like this as the benefits are many.

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Every now and then the Farm has a working bee where people come and get their hands dirty, hearts happy and connect over food production. Something we all need more of.

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It’s also where you get to lounge in wheelbarrows, drink tea and eat cake. All part of a successful working bee experience!

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If you’re in Hobart and would like to source your veggies from this super local (and rather awesome) farm each week, register your interest HERE. 

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How To Install Dripline Irrigation

For almost three years (the whole time we’ve been here), we’ve been using passive water harvesting, hand watering and using sprinklers strategically to irrigate our growing garden. However, the plan has always been to install dripline irrigation, as it’s the most water efficient and time saving approach available.

IMG_4636Hand watering…. And over it!

But before we could do that we had to replace some significant water pipes, build a series of retaining walls (which pipes had to be integrated into), build some steps (which some other pipes had to be integrated into) and upgrade another mains water line. This took a while. So it was only a couple of months ago we finally got to install our driplines, suffice to say we love them. Here’s an overview of how to do it so you too can be liberated from hand watering.

Before you start *anything*, the first process to go through is the design stage. Map out your garden and measure the areas you need to irrigate. From here, you can create an accurate shopping list and be super efficient with resources and time – a big theme for us.

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But before you can start shopping, some basic information…

What is dripline? – well, it’s a line of plastic tubing that drips. There are a range of variations, with soaker hoze, leaky pipe and 13mm poly pipe with drippers that you punch into them at desired intervals.  However we have been eyeing off dripline with the drippers pre-installed in the line.  With products such as Toro and Netafim being popular brands – in terms of budget and quality, these seem to be some of the best. The Toro pipe we’ve used has drippers every 300mm (one foot in the old scale) – each dripper releases 2 litres of water per hour.

How does it work?  The drippers drip onto the soil, from the place the water hits the soil it spreads in a cone shape.  With sandy soil the drip is a very narrow cone, pretty much just wetting the soil immediately below the dripper.  With clay soils the cone has a very wide angle, effectively watering a larger area.  As a result, the spacing using drippers will change depending on your soil type.

Pressure compensating Vs Non Pressure compensating drippers?  If you are buying dripline you will come up against this terminology.  Basically pressure compensating drippers can work over a range of water pressures.  Why does this matter?  Hilly and steep sites create different levels of water pressure.  Thus using non-pressure compensating drippers could result in the bottom of the hill getting more water than the top.  I have heard it recommended to use the pressure compensating drippers if the irrigation slope is over 2 meters or if the runs of dripline are very long.  There is a whole science to this and this site has a great overview of the topic.  Given our steep slope, we used pressure compensating drippers.

Calculating the dripline length: First we measured the bed length and width.  Then calculated the number of driplines per bed.  We have spaced our drippers around 300mm apart, from this you can calculate the length of dripline you need.

Draw a map of how it will work on the ground.  From this you can calculate all  the T connectors, elbows, 13mm plain line, clips, ends and valves you will need.  Once you have worked out how many you will need, add another 20% to these.  Plans change and having them on hand lets you adapt and change the design as your garden evolves.

Buy the bits.  Word of caution, avoid the mainstream, heavily over priced hardware stores.  Go to an irrigation specialist in the “industrial” part of town.  In Hobart we use Hollander Imports or Irrigation Tasmania. If you are buying online these people have very good prices and products.

Each section of our garden is watered by a manual tap which is in turn directed to 3 or 4 sub sections of the garden. In this way we can water fruit trees differently to our vegetables as their water needs are drastically different.  To do this, we create a “manifold” using a variety of connectors – the image below shows the items required.

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Prepare the connectors in plain 13mm poly pipe.  You can use pliers or the tool below – a razer blade with leverage, affectionately known as the finger cutter.

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An incredibly helpful tip is have some hot (almost boiling) water on hand to place the pipe in, this helps the pipe stretch to attach each piece together easily. We fill a thermos of hot water and pour it into a cup as needed – this little trick will save you a lot of time and frustration.

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Attach the bits together to test it will fit the area it is made for (always test first).

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Clip the fittings together and attach in place.

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So we could still use each tap we installed a tap splitter, make sure you use plenty of plumbers tape so the tap fittings don’t leak.

IMG_4641Plumbers tape will make sure you don’t have any leaks

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The dripline is attached to the tap using a standard hose tap fitting, simply put the poly pipe in hot water then attach the tap fitting – too easy.

Next we need to lay out the driplines for the beds, you can see in the bed below we have set four driplines in total.

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At the manifold/tap end of the driplines, we have created another set of T’s and elbows that distributes the water into each dripline.  This is measured out so that the driplines are in the correct position on each bed.

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Once all of the above is clipped together we run water through the system.  This is to flush any dirt or plastic scrap that may be in the pipe.  Once this is done, we put the ‘end caps’ in place to block the end of the pipe – alternatively you can put valves at the end so you can flush the system in the future.

IMG_4660Flushing out the pipes to clean out any ‘bits’

Because we’re often working vegetable beds where we do seasonal mulching/planting/digging we had to make sure the irrigation is easy to move. To do this, we attached one end to a timber strip at the end of the bed so we can just pick the whole thing up together. You don’t have to do this, indeed,for some contexts it might be easier to have them loose and just pick them up one by one.

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Oh, and if you run out of connectors or don’t like chopping the pipe up, you can always put it down in a spiral. Just know that if you have seeds or young seedlings you’ll need to do a bit of hand watering to make sure they get enough water in the early days.

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So that’s the basics of our dripline system.  We have spent around $500 and have around 1/2 of our 1/4 acre block under dripline now.  We think it’s more than worth it as It’s a great time saver.

And if we where to do this again? We would think a bit harder about the original main water pipe layout (a 20mm blue line poly pipe).  We would duplicate the system so there was a “dripper” dedicated pipe and a “tap” dedicated pipe.  That would mean we could then just turn one valve and water the whole garden. This would be specifically for when we go away and we get our awesome neighbours to water the garden…. And of course you can put an automatic timer on some/all of your irrigation system – we haven’t gone there yet but it is a consideration in the future. We see what we’ve done now as an awesome stage one that fits within our context and capacity.

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Land Regeneration In Action

10 years ago, my (Hannah’s) dad, Justin Moloney, moved onto 40 acres of degraded land which consisted mostly of serious patches of lantana, tree pear, empty paddocks and some clusters of hardy gums – we were a bit underwhelmed with it all. Tucked away just outside Toowoomba in S.E Queensland, this area has an annual rainfall of 839mm (more than Hobart), but has hot summers with high evaporation so it isn’t known for it’s lush green paddocks. Nearby, some of our countries finest agricultural soils reside (Lockyer Valley), but not in dad’s patch.

As we’ve visited over the years, he’s put us to work, digging holes (so many holes) and planting trees. I still associate his home with the feeling of being uncomfortably hot, sweaty and buggered. For a long time it seemed like the baby trees just didn’t move, but then they did and now his land is alive. These days when we visit, we take lazy walks around his place, looking *up* at the trees he’s planted and cared for over the years. He’s proof that it is possible to regenerate clapped out, degraded land and bring it back to being a vibrant ecosystem. Here are some before and current photos to give us all some hope.

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Dad’s long and curvy driveway is now flanked by green trees, shrubs and assorted native grasses.

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IMG_3801Barbwire grass, a local native returning in force

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Standing in one of the once empty paddocks looking back at his house, before (above) and now.

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For a long time his landscape was dotted with hundreds of plastic tree guards (above), the same view today can be seen, and enjoyed below.

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Apparently some visitors have lamented the fact that the trees now block out the distant hills (above) so there’s not so much view.  We’re both ok with that and think the new view (below) is much more satisfying.

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As trees are now coming into their own, they’re having babies left, right and centre. The next generations are coming on all by themselves – yesssss.

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And the birds, so many birds. If I was a better photographer I would have been able to capture some on film. But I’m a remarkably average one… So here’s one of their nests instead, tucked away in a darn prickly acacia shrub – perfect for habitat.

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And my favourite transformation has been the dam, which was sometimes full but most of the time not in the early years. Today it is steadily full despite the region not having recent rains. Dad has rehydrated his landscape, one of the better things any person can do with their life. His ridge lines are full of trees again, his slopes stable and his dam is now referred to as ‘the lake’ with a million and one water birds and wildlife loving this space.

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Lantana has been (and continues to be) a big part of dad’s work. He loves it for its soil building qualities and the fact that it’s awesome habitat for little birds (birds are one of his favourite things). But, left alone,  it’ll pretty much swallow up the whole world (slight exaggeration, I know). We need diversity for a healthy ecosystem and so he’s slowly but surely removing and replacing large lantana mountains. To do so, he uses a combination of chainsaw and some strategic use of round up – doing the ‘cut and paste’ method.

IMG_3808A lantana stump

He’ll then leave the whole bush on the ground and let it slowly breakdown into the soil – returning to the earth. I know it’s not ‘pure’ to use round up, but I do see the rational in its strategic use when working with large parcels of land with no animals or other people to help.

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And then there’s his house garden. When he arrived – it looked like this (excuse the crappy photo of a photo)….

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These days it’s a mixture of colour, natives, flowers and art…

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The front fence of his house garden is hedged with silver salt bush which is flourishing on the inside of the fence line and religiously grazed by local wallabies on the outside.

His once trashed farm land is now on its way to being a stable, healthy ecosystem, full of life and love. Way to go dad.

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Hobart City Farm

For the past two years, myself and a few other fine folk have been busting our guts in our spare time to find (and secure) land to set up a city farm. A city farm is just that – a small farm in the city. It’s not a community or school garden, but a working farm which employs people to grow serious amounts of food. As this process has taken longer than we hoped, Anton and I got on with life, started Good Life Permaculture, bought a house with a 1/4 acre and since then have been setting it up as a demonstration city farm.

But we’ve kept the flame burning as it’s something that just want leave us. And yes, we are setting up our own small urban block and home as a demonstration city farm, but we want to see paddocks of productive landscapes in our cities, paddocks and paddocks. It’s a vision that’s been lodged in my head and heart my whole life and I can’t let it go, not until its real. Cause nothing beats realness.

And so, it is with enormous pleasure, and some relief, that we’ve finally been able to launch the Hobart City Farm project at our local Sustainable Living Festival this weekend. We are a not-for-profit organisation, run like a social enterprise and focused on establishing a vibrant, financially viable and environmentally regenerative small farm that grows a diverse range of food, builds community and provides meaningful employment. We are more than stoked.

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So, who are we exactly? We are 5 people, independent of Good Life Permaculture, and go by the names of James Da Costa, Bridget Stewart, Louise Sales, Sam Beattie and yours truly – Hannah. Anton is playing support on this project as he’s concentrating on not spreading himself so thin, smart bloke that one. And where is the land? It’s in New Town, around 3kms north of Hobart city centre, we’ll release the actually address of the site once we’ve finalised formalities – which are almost there.

Currently the site is a patch of lawn, but not for long as we’re running a multifaceted fundraising campaign to get the whole sh-bang off the ground. Part one is selling a huge amount of tomato seedlings we propagated ourselves at the Sustainable Living Festival this weekend. Pop on down today (Sunday 9th) to get your tom stash and meet some of the team, Good Life Permaculture’s stall is directly next door (we made sure of that) so you can say g’day to us too.

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1236160_663243723774603_3622198941132883815_nThe team (minus Lousie Sales) getting excited at the Sustainable Living Festival yesterday

Part two of the fundraising efforts is our crowd funding campaign, complete with a pretty darn impressive list of gifts in exchange for your contributions. We’ve got beehives, permaculture designs, garden blitzes, seeds, parties, t-shirts, compost workshops and even naming writes to a tractor!

Watch the crowd funding film HERE

So why are we so gung-ho about this city farm thing?

Food: We’re passionate about investing in local and regional food systems to provide reliable access to a nutritious and diverse range of food. We see growing food in the heart of the community as an important way of rebuilding connections to where food comes from and the people who grow it. We’re committed to ensuring that the following generations have an understanding of the important role food plays in creating and maintaining resilient communities.

Community: In addition to producing food, the farm will grow community through facilitating educational opportunities in permaculture, food production and composting (to name a few) – both on and off the farm. The Hobart City Farm will encourage community involvement in the practical operations of the farm and help foster a vibrant community in the immediate surroundings and beyond.

Livelihoods: The Hobart City Farm will employ local Tasmanians, creating meaningful livelihoods for individuals. We are also looking and thinking beyond our farm gate and will explore the possibility of partnering with other organisations to provide training in small-hold farming. We hold a deep commitment to helping others gain the skills they need to become farmers.

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We’d like to thank you in advance for helping to make our dreams of having a local, robust, ecologically based, kick-arse food system a reality. Cheers.

  • You can contribute to our crowd funding campaign here
  • Read all about us on our website
  • Like us on facebook to stay in the loop
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How Spring changes our lives

Have you noticed how your whole life changes as each season roles in and out? We have. As Spring kicks in these are the things that we notice and how they change our lives…

The Sun

There is more sun action – this glorious ball of warmth starts to stick around longer, increasing our day’s length to luxurious, long evenings. This means that even while we might be on task with projects all day, there’s still time for swimming in the ocean, a BBQ with our mates at the park or evening gardening sessions where we stumble inside around 9pm and only then start thinking about dinner. Actually Spring is usually when we start to eat outside around the campfire, which is pretty much the best thing ever – so we don’t really come inside until bed time.

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The Wind

Also known as the windy season, Spring is the time where we generally pray our roof doesn’t fly away – which it want cause we just re-roofed it and put a mega load of roofing screws in. We know that over the next few months there will be some crazy wind storms where we’ll have to straighten our tomatoes and that we may loose some corn or beans to the winds gods and goddess… So what do we do? We plant them in tight clusters and we plant a bit extra, just to be safe.

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Look at all those beautiful roofing screws – perhaps a little over the top, but the roof isn’t going anywhere.

The Eggs

After a decent Winter hiatus our chickens and duck (yes, just only one lady duck at the moment) are back on the lay which means everything egg is on the menu again. Our diets change drastically with the seasons, although due to our mega preserving sessions we’re still happily eating tomatoes, beans and cucumbers from last Summer. But we’re looking forward to the fresh factor and crunching into everything that the warmer months bring.

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The Babies

Right now we’re nursing a couple of thousand of babies at the moment – of the seedling variety. They’re not actually all for us, we just happen to have a wicked sun room so are propagating a hell of a lot of tomatoes for a soon to be announced project – which must remain secret for the time being. But all through late Winter and early Spring we’re attentive parents to these green babies, making sure they get watered first thing in the morning while we drink our coffee. As they grow up and move out into the garden our rhythms change and we drink our tea and coffee outside – checking any slug damage, killing slugs etc.

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The Soil

Soil is always a bit of a focus around here – but come Spring we start digging in green manures and making compost pile/s with the excess green waste from the Winter crops we pull out. And then it’s on to prepping the beds with compost and perhaps some gentle aerating for the new crops. When the soil’s happy, we’re happy, so the seasonal changes allows us to check in with it in a major way.

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The Barefoot Factor

Having grown up in Queensland, I don’t think I owned a proper pair of shoes until I had to start school. As a result I’m a broad footed lass who’s feet long to be outside and free. This is the season where we can dust off the thongs or just go barefoot (my favourite) and toughen up our soft, white feet with pure sunshine and dirt.

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The Socialising

As much as we try not to, we do tend to hibernate in Winter. It’s just that our fireplace and books are HEAPS more enticing and cosey than navigating chilly, wet nights or days. Come Spring though, you’ll find us well rested and seeking out friends in their kitchens, down the street or out in their paddocks.

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A flash back to last Summer at the Fork and Hoe Farm (some of our best mates), these guys really know how to play.

Happy Spring to everyone on this side of the world. May you notice how your living patterns change as the seasons do… And may your savour it all :-).

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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Floppy Fences

The floppy fence is a type of fence designed to primarily keep possums, wallabies and rabbits (and other undesirables) out of your food garden. We’re a fan of this low-tech, effective system which can be easily replicated in most contexts.

What materials do you need?

The material list is fairly straight forward and easy to source, it includes chicken wire (rolls at either 1.8m high or two rolls at .9m high), star pickets (at least 1.8m high), tie wire, high tensile wire and vermin mesh or small chicken wire (optional). As a general rule I try to avoid using any timber posts as possums can climb them much easier compared to steel posts. If you have particularly vigorous possums you might want to consider eliminating 100% of any timber from your fence line. In our current home we’re using timber corner posts as the possums in our area are pretty tame.

Is it expensive?

Depending on the area you’re fencing the cost will vary – fencing isn’t cheap and it can quickly add up. However you can salvage a lot of the materials or find them second hand which helps keep the costs down. Just remember that long-term, it’s well worth the investment in time and finances as it results in a safe and productive food garden.

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How do we keep out rabbits, wallabies AND possums? Well there are a few key elements behind this design which specifically targets each of the three animals: Here’s how…

The rabbit

At the bottom of your fence dig in an additional 20-30cm of chicken wire straight down into the soil, this will create a barrier to the rabbits digging under/through the fence. Alternatively you can put a 20-30cm ‘skirt’ on the bottom of your fence where, instead of being dug into the ground the wire is fanned out along the soil’s surface. Something to be mindful of is BABY rabbits who can squeeze through extra small fencing wire. You’ll see on the diagram above that additional wire has been added to the bottom strip of the fence to deter these babies from waltzing into your garden. This is where you can use either vermin mesh or small chicken wire to keep them out.

The possum

The element which prevents possums from rampaging in your garden is the top floppy section. Possums hate climbing on unstable, shaky branches – so we’re imitating this with the floppy top. They’ll climb up the fence like normal, but once they reach the top floppy section they’ll turn around and retreat. Simple!

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You can see the high tensile wire in action here – creating a beautiful curved shape

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The high tensile wire is spaced approximately 1m apart to ensure a consistent and strong floppy top

The wallaby

The wonderful thing about wallabies is they don’t jump very high – yay! Technically all you need is a standard fence up to approximately 1.5m high – that’s it. No floppy top or skirt required. Currently most of our garden is only fenced with this standard fencing approach which is keeping the “hoppies” out brilliantly (touch wood).

To see this all in action: You can watch a short video I helped make for a floppy fence I co-built at the Source Community Garden which shows you what this all looks like.

There are quite a few variations of the floppy fence which people do, it all depends on the materials available and the context in which they’re working. For example Pindari Herb Farm have incorporated corrugated iron into their fence structure to act as a wind/seed break. I’ve also seen this used to keep out wombats, but you have to dig the iron into the soil a good .5m as well.

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One very important this to realise is that the height of a floppy fence will vary drastically depending on the vigor of your possums/wildlife. For example we live in urban/peri-urban Hobart and our floppy fence is around 1.5m’ish high, however we know people living in the country who build theirs well over 2m high with an electrical wire on top of that to keep out the possums. Please have no illusion about possums – there are some hard hearted ones out there who will stop at nothing to get to your crops. It seems the possums in our neighbourhood are just a bit more relaxed and casual… For which I am eternally grateful.

The main thing to remember is that fencing is your friend, get over any ‘oh, but fences create a bad vibe’ feelings you might have. Do what you need to do to make sure you can grow food without a constant battle with the wildlife. I’ve seen too many half-hearted attempts at fencing which has resulted in huge amounts of energy, time and resources being wasted and ultimately people decided that growing food is ‘too hard’. Generally it’s not too hard you just need to consider the right fencing design for your situation and get into it!

Handy Resources

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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The beauty of heirlooms

There is a lot of beauty in food, especially in the heirloom (aka heritage) department. These days we expect carrots to be orange, tomatoes to be red and bananas and corn to be yellow. But once upon a time it was normal for all of these to be most colours of the rainbow. Due to the industrialisation of food, crops are no longer chosen based on their taste, nutritious qualities and ability to suit local conditions. They are now selected and grown based on how well they can travel vast distances and how good they look for the supermarket shelves.

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This chart is a bit of a wake up call as to how the mainstream food system determines the food we are exposed to at the local supermarket.

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Did you know that the carrot used to mostly be purple and that the orange carrot is relatively new thing which was cultivated around 400 years ago. You can learn more, so much more, through the UK’s Carrot museum. Image from here.

Without trying very hard at all, we mostly source heirloom seeds through our local networks, our own seed saving and through businesses like The Diggers Club, Phoenix Seeds and Southern Harvest. Initially our key attraction to heirloom is the fact that you get soooo much more diversity, interesting tastes and really strange/fun looking crops. But the more we grow them, the more we’re addicted to the fact they taste so much better than non heirloom varieties and we also love being part of preserving age-old plant varieties.

So what exactly does heirloom mean? “Heirlooms come from seed that has been handed down for generations in a particular region or area, hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait. Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, which means they’re non-hybrid and pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention. How experts define heirlooms can vary, but typically they are at least 50 years old, and often are pre-WWII varieties. In addition, they tend to remain stable in their characteristics from one year to the next.”

Some people are very strict on ensuring their heirloom seeds are pre-WWII, this is because a lot of the left-over chemicals used for warfare were directed into conventional agriculture as fertilisers and pesticides – forever altering our food scape. Other people aren’t so strict about this timeline, but it’s something to be aware of.

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Baby blue pop corn which we’ve recently harvest from our own garden. We were gifted this seed from a friend last year and simply couldn’t resist it. We’re in the process of waiting for it to dry out properly so we can make blue pop corn with it. Apparently this seed was originally sourced from The Lost Seed, however last time I checked it was no longer in stock. I passed on some seed to the Southern Harvest mob in Tasmania who will be growing it up for selling.

purple-cauliflowerPurple broccoli, image from here

variedades_nativas_500Potato heaven, image form here

ahNzfnJlYWx0aW1lZmFybXMtaHJkcgwLEgNQaWMYuN-yBAwRainbow beetroots, image from here 

Are there any downsides to growing heirlooms? They are more irregular in that you can get a mixed bag of shapes and sizes which is hard to market to the supermarket who are looking for ‘perfect looking’ foods only. Because of these irregularities it can also be more challenging to design efficient harvesting and processing systems. But really, these are the concerns of the large-scale, monoculture focused farmers. Small-hold family farmers don’t have these same problems to the same degree, but there is so much politics wrapped up in this discussion which I’ll leave for another day.

heirloom-tomatoes  Tomatoes, image from here

88_1ROMANESCORomanesco broccoli, spirals within spirals within spirals, image from here

glass-gem-corn-photo-500x375Glass gem corn, image from here

If you’re wondering how to actually get started in growing your own food and save seed, you can join us this November for our Real Skills for Growing Food workshop – it’s going to be a very hands-on, jam packed weekend!

Interesting Resources

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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Small Farm, Big Hearts

Small farms feed the majority of the world – this is an actual fact and an under-celebrated reality. We need to be kinder to all of of our farmers – but small farms especially, as we need them.

We recently paid a visit to our long-time friends at the Fork and Hoe Collective, a farm in Nichols Rivulet around 50 minutes south of Hobart. The Fork and Hoe Collective is Jonathon Cooper, Thea Webb, Scott Graham, Natasa Milenovic and their boys Sen and Jethro. They moved onto their farm just under 2 years ago and promptly got cows, chooks, ducks, bees, pigs, started a market garden, planted an orchard and built a tree house. They’re busy, really busy, so much so, that the only way we get to see them these days is if we come and work with them and cook them dinner.

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 The Fork and Hoe Farm includes sweeping valleys, green rolling hills, creek flats and forest. I know, it looks awful doesn’t it. 

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Family photo, L-R: Scotti, Jethro (the littlest one), Sen, Natasa, Thea and Jono on their hay harvest. Image: Fork and Hoe

The UN has declared 2014 the international year of the family farmer, they believe that “both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector.” They go on to outline that family and small-scale farming are inextricably linked to world food security.

Throughout Africa and the Asia Pacific region family, small-scale farming is incredibly common (between 60% – 85% of land is small-scale family farmed).  In Australia some people still think it’s strange to start a farm which is smaller than 100 acres, however it’s been shown again and again that small-scale farming is more resilient to climate change, healthier for the land, water and people involved in running the show. How is this so? Generally, small farms take a more holistic approach to farming, have more diverse cropping systems, integrate animals into their food cycle, operate on a local economy so money stays in the region and run on strong social ethics ensuring people are looked after.

983951_595535237136281_1138063022_nThe official logo for the Fork and Hoe mob is this donkey drawing a cart with two pairs in it – cause there are two pairs of adults running the show. And the donkey? Well, they really like them and may even get one… one day (fingers crossed). Local artist, Tonia Gretschmann from The Paper Shed whipped this beauty up and we all love it.

 

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Anton and Bridget getting shown around by Thea: The delightful new’ish market garden is pumping out the produce – all up the market garden covers around 3 acres.  2014-04-21 08.52.31

Steaming compost goodness – Thea, Bridget (and me) turning the compost pile – a great way to wake up!

Making compost is a constant event. Eventually they’ll systemise their composting process with tractors and windrows, but for the time being every pile helps build healthy soils, healthy food and healthy people.

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Some of the colourful and tasty produce coming out of the garden at the moment.

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 The propagation hot house is a happy place – full of new life.

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A small army of wwoofers, friends and kids helping to prep some fresh beds for garlic planting. We added some gypsum, chook poo pellets, rock dust and lime before planting. If you’re wondering what to add to your soils – get a soil test first to tailor the inputs to your site.

Roller

James (a wwoofer) uses the roller to mark out the spaces for where we’ll plant garlic – this ensures that weeding is super easy as everything’s in neat rows and evenly spaced.

Hannah

Yours truly… It helps to have long legs when planting

The planters can then quickly come along behind the roller and pop in the garlics really quickly. We prepped and planted out eight 30m beds before lunch time  –  where we ate a lot.

Doris

Other delights on the small farm are Doris and her 12 piglets, the cows, ducks and chooks of and the turkeys are hilarious.

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Being 5, it’s critically important Sen has his own hide out where he can sit and keep an eye on everyone and dictate his wisdom to the world – which he’s really good at.

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Freshly baked sourdough happens each morning to feed to masses.

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We had a sleep over and converted their pile of hay bales into a bale room within the barn for a feast. We crammed in around 20 wwoofers, kids and friends – it was pretty cosy and darn yummy.

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Sticking cloves in an orange to make mulled wine for our feast – a critical element to warming up folk on a crispy cool Tassie night.

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James (one of the wonderful wwoofer) is in the final stages of building this beaut rocket stove fire bath. We hope that they use it regularly (and the hammock behind it) to rest their hard-working bones and to admire the stars and their stunning market garden.

You can find the Fork and Hoe Collective selling their produce every Saturday at the Salamanca Markets and follow them on facebook to keep in the loop with their small farm and big hearts.

Want to read more about small-scale family farms?

  • Explore the UN’s report which highlights how small farms are key to a sustainable food system.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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Biointensive Food Production

Developed in the 1970s by John Jeavons, biointensive agriculture is an organic food production system which focuses on growing large amounts of food on small areas of land, while simultaneously improving and maintaining the fertility of the soil. A happy combination of biodynamics and French intensive gardening, it was originally designed for developing countries low on resources, machinery and fossil fuels. This method is all about achieving long term sustainability on a closed loop basis and is particularly effective for back-yard gardeners and small-hold farmers.

bio frenchEarly 1900s, French gardeners which John Jeavons drew inspiration from

The biointensive agriculture head quarters is in California at Ecology Action where it operates as a research and education centre. Practitioners on this side of the world are slim on the ground with only one person, Jodi Roebuck in NZ, a certified practitioner who has trained directly with Ecology Action. So when I found out Harry and Bonnie Wykman from Black Earth Collective were doing an internship with Jodi, we organised them to pay a visit to Tasmania to share their skills with us and others.

This dynamic brother/sister team have have been involved in urban agriculture, permaculture and small-scale farming for the past decade or so, are deeply committed to all things good and worthy and happen to be dear friends of mine. I love it when work and play come together!

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Harry and Bonnie Wykman, Black Earth Collective, Perth – W.A

But why biointensive agriculture? Because we need to learn about methods (there’s more than one) that can guide us in reducing our ecological footprint – right now, we take up too much space/resources and our population is ever increasing. As is shown below, each person requires up to 28 000 square metres (around 7 acres) of land to provide their food and fibre and we simply don’t have that much fertile land available to us. Biointensive agriculture has proven that as little as 400 sq metres is enough for one vegan diet, that’s smaller than your average urban house block – wowsers.

 

how muchImage from Black Earth Collective

To achieve its’ goal of having a closed loop system and using land efficiently, the biointensive method advocates the following ratios for our food and fibre crops.

60 30 10 circle

This workshop was jam packed of useful, practical skills for efficient growing – here’s some snapshots to give you a sense of how great it was.

Propagation

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Once up and showing a couple of leaves, radish seeds were transplanted from a standard seed tray into a purpose built ‘planting flat’ (see below) to provide the plants extra room for their roots to mature. Turns out you can propagate and transplant all types of crops this way including carrots and beetroots… and they don’t mind it one bit. This means that you can completely avoid the sometimes patchy outcome when you do direct sowing of seeds.

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Harry and Bonnie made these planting flats from pallets we salvaged from around town. They’re incredibly practical with extra depth and capacity, plus they’re totally beautiful.

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Pallets are a great resource, free and everywhere in cities. Just be sure to only collect the ones which have the “HT” stamp on them which means they’re heat treated and chemical free.

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Tools

Tool types, tool care and tool use are all central to successful biointensive agriculture. While we didn’t have the ideal array of tools that are usually used with this technique (check out that u-bar below!) we used common garden tools which still did the job. HOWEVER, be mindful that if you have hard clay soils some tools will bend and break.  Invest in quality  tools to do the job properly, key brands recommended by Harry and Bonnie are Wolfgarten, Bulldog and Spear and Jackson.

tools

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We spent some solid time learning how to use tools ergonomically to do double digging, which sounds simple, but actually requires some re-wiring of the brain and body to ‘get it’. But it’s worth it, as most of us know, when you don’t use tools correctly, you end up working harder and hurting yourself.

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 Harry demonstrating the right digging techniques

Double Digging

DoubleDig

The above diagram shows the double digging process for which biointensive agriculture is famous. The aim of the game is to transform compacted and/or lifeless soil into friable, living, brown gold. To do this is, you do two lots of ‘digging’, the first dig turns over the top layer of soil while the second only loosens the subsoil (not turned). Depending on your soil type, compost can be gently integrated into the subsoil layer and/or just integrated into the top soil layer. For a thorough demonstration, watch this youtube clip from Ecology Action.

A really important point: Make sure your soils have a good level of moisture before you double dig. Too dry and it can be like digging rocks (especially with clay soils), too wet and you’ll just dig up large clods. It needs to be just right, damp enough that your spade/fork can slide in easily and not too wet that it’s sticky or muddy.

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Planting

And then there’s the planting system where you can plant up to 4 times the amount of crops compared to a traditional market garden system – awesome.

bio collageDiagram from John Jeavons comparing biointensive spacing to a traditional market garden meanwhile Penny’s putting it all into practice on the right.

Using a series of measuring sticks, you can precisely plant out seedlings to maximise the space.

But what about weeding, I hear you ask??? Good question, during the bred preparation a super thorough weed is done to rid the soil of 99% of any weeds. The thick planting helps suppress any weeds that may come up after the crops are in and then it’s up to manual intervention, i.e. the grower and their hands to pull out any tricky weeds that do come through.

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2014-03-29 15.26.11Harry testing the friability of the new beds by seeing how far he can push his arm into the soil. While not exactly text book perfect, the beds are now around 1000% better compared to when we started. 

Talking

And like all workshops which bring growers together, there’s a lot of this happening – ‘grower talk’ where experiences are shared and hot tips swapped for how to refine green thumbs. We love watching this happen… and taking part in it.

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A massive thanks to Bonnie and Harry for making it to our island, staying with us for a week and teaching us some real life skills to add to our belt. We’re already dreaming and scheming on how we can work with these guys again!

harry-bonnie_SnapseedKeep an eye on the Black Earth Collective, they’re about to unleash some damn exciting and fantastic things – watch this space!

Want to read more? Check out the How to Grow more Vegetables book by John Jeavons for a complete run down on all things biointensive agriculture and Ecology Action’s fantastic videos for practical demonstrations.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things garden-esk.

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