Posts from the ‘Gardening’ category

Four Goat Case Studies From Around Australia

We asked a few of our “goat friends” to answer some questions for us (and you) to provide more practical case studies for the world to learn from. Here you go!

Ecoburbia, Urban Fremantle, W.A

Shani and Tim

What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

  • Our goats provide us with milk, cheese, and yogurt. They eat veggie scraps and garden refuge and also cuttings from neighbours and a local tree lopper who brings us stuff he knows they will like. Once they are finished we mulch the leftover branches and use them in the garden and compost
  • Our chickens are in the same pen as our goats and they like to scratch through the goat droppings for undigested grains. Their poo and spent oaten hay is a valuable addition to the compost.
  • Our goats are also much adored members of our household. We love them dearly. We sit and have a cup of tea in their pen every morning and that’s when they get their daily brush. They love trying to eat the tea leaves from the strainer.
  • They are also a great way to develop community.  Our sharewaste folk also bring treats for them – they will do anything for banana peels. They certainly get lots of visitors and people are free to wander into our backyard whenever they like. School finishing time is a popular time for visitors.
  • Our daily walks (down the middle of the road so no one is tempted by the roses) have meant we have met many people in our neighbourhood. There is usually someone keen to have a stroll with us and a chat as the goat’s graze. When Pumpkin was younger she used to play on the play equipment with the neighbourhood kids – she loves going up and sliding down the slide, and walking along the rope swing.
  • When we meet someone from Beaconsfield they often say “oh you’re the goat people” People seem proud of this quirky aspect in their neighbourhood.

How many goats do you have and what breed?

At the moment we have two goats – Whimsy (who is five) and Pumpkin (who is two). They are saanen goats. We mated Pumpkin recently with a 50% Nigerian dwarf and plan to mate Whimsy next year with a 100% Nigerian dwarf. Our goal is to breed a small goat who produces milk but is good for an urban environment.

What type of fencing do you have?

We have one metre high mesh fencing held in place with metal star pickets. They have only once jumped the fence – Pumpkin did accidentally when she got spooked by an umbrella. She was quite young and “frisky” She looked so shocked. People always comment that they will get out but they never have – I like to think they are happy in there.

Whimsy can however undo most gate latches so our gate has to be double locked with a carabiner. She can also undo bolts. Last year she went to the Royal Show, figured out how to undo her stall and then promptly undid all the other goat stalls – she loves a challenge. She watches everyone who leaves the pen and knows in an instance if the gate is not latched properly.

And once they are in the veggie garden . . . . .

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

Our goat’s pen is about 70 square metres (not including their stables) They share this space with 12 chickens. They also have a space of about 30 square metres on the verge which is planted out with a fodder grass called paragrass and they graze there most days.

What do you feed them?

  • They get a grain mix of Lucerne chaff, goat pellets, barley and lupins twice a day at milking.
  • Also clean oaten hay daily (most of which they waste!) They get lots of veggie and garden scraps. When they go for a walk they always get some grazing time – weeks acacia, fennel – other interesting shrubs.
  • For a reward or a treat we feed them carob pods. We harvest and dry from a local tree every summer and that keeps us going all year.

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

  • Milking and feeding takes about half an hour morning and night. I don’t count our morning cuppa and brushing as care. The afternoon walk takes about an hour. So about 2 hours a day. Plus collecting feed, trimming hooves etc
  • When there are babies you tend to spend all day in there.
  • Although I walk the goats Tim and I share the milking duties and we like doing it together.
  • We have a few people in the community who can milk if we need them. Our most reliable is actually a 12 year old girl – the goats are better behaved for her than they are for us.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

  • I would say my main preventative approaches would be daily observation – are they off their feed, what does their coat look like, were they a bit slow to eat their food, are they getting up when someone approaches with a treat? . . . . that sort of thing.
  • I don’t worm my goats unless they need it – I get a stool sample tested once every three months and they have never had worms
  • We are lucky because we are 15 minutes away from a university vet school that has a wonderful productive animal unit. They are also happy to do home visits for the cost of the travel. And they know our goats!

What’s been some of your key challenges in keeping goats?

We had goats “illegally” for many years but when we moved suburb we knew we would have to get permission. The council was well away we kept goats in our previous house but didn’t ever act as there were never complaints. Beg for forgiveness and all that!

When we moved here I enquired (anonymously) and was told there was no way. I approached the mayor who directed me to the head of health. The council had no policy so had to follow state legislation. Surprisingly, most of the conditions were easy to meet – 6 metres from the house, lots of sensible stable requirements . . . . . except for the fact they had to be 20 metres from any other house.

The head of health suggested if I could get support from all the houses within 20 metres  then they would look at my application. We wrote a letter outlining what their care etc would be like, and everyone signed.  . . . . . and we have the only legal goat stable in Freo. The cost has not been put up since 1982 ($27.50)  and they quite often forget to renew it.

I am proud of our council for their creative thinking in this regard. I think by proving it could be done (if illegally) it made things easier.

The main time things are tricky is when the goats are on heat – the constant crying is difficult. We have some soundproof walls we put up on their pen and they have to spend a couple of days inside. Our immediate neighbours are very tolerant.

We have had four complaints.

  1. One neighbour complained about the goats and us generally (“why don’t you f… off to the country”) provoked by one of our goats pooing on his lawn. Despite our attempts to talk to him he has written or phoned the council 16 times (they told us!) They came out to investigate the smell (one of his complaints) and I made them sniff the goat! I also letterboxed an apology note from the goats (for their poo!) to all the neighbours on our usual route. Tim asked other neighbours to write letters of support about the goats (the council has a process for complaint but not compliment) and we have not heard from them since. And luckily he has sold up and moved away (not because of us!)
  2. An ex farmer felt like our pen was too small. He complained to the mayor who suggested he contact the RSPCA which he never did. He has since moved away as well.
  3. The RSPCA came one day as someone had suggested our goat has mastitis. She had what is called a pendulous udder and it did look very swollen. She checked out the goat, had a cuddle and left. She was very annoyed as she had to drive two hours to investigate (their city based officers only deal with “city animals”
  4. Someone suggested to the council that we were selling milk. Someone reported us based on a facebook post and they came around to investigate. Of course we don’t sell milk . . . . . . We just got a letter saying “don’t sell milk” and all was good.

I get very stressed with there is something wrong with the goats – they are my babies!

Melliodora, Central Victoria (rural)

David Holmgren, Sue Dennet and Brenna Quinlan (who provided this text)

What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

  • They debark fodder sticks, which we then put through the wood chipper, and use on pathways, in veggie bed pathways, in the deep littler chook run, and in our compost. This is a major source of carbon for our property, as we don’t tend to buy in straw or other external inputs.
  • They are also our pets, so they give us love and cuddles. They get us out down the gully where we tether them each day so they can eat blackberry, so we get daily engagement with our commons, and Su gets daily exercise and ‘goatie time’, which is important when you’re in your 70s.
  • They reduce fire hazard by eating blackberry. This is very important in Central Victoria, the most fire prone region in the world. In spring when the grass is high we fence off paddocks on neighbouring properties and have them eat and trample the grass to reduce the need for slashing.
  • They give us milk each morning. We have 3 milking girls, Pip, Willow and Chia. Because none of them have had babies in two years (and three for pip), we only get about 3 litres of milk total, and now that Chia has one teat out of action, we’re only getting 2 litres. We make cheese, yogurt and use the whey for bread making and pickles.
  • They give us manure for compost.
  • We only mate them every 3 years, so when they have baby boy goats, we get meat from them as well.

  An illustration depicting the role goats play at Melliodora, by Brenna Quinlan

How many goats do you have and what breed?

We have three goats, which are all mixed breeds. Pip looks like a Toggenburg, and Willow is part Saanen, although she is fatter and has much shorter legs. Chia is Willow’s daughter. Willow and Pip were reject goats from Holy Goat, our local organic goat dairy.

What type of fencing do you have?

Our one hectare property is fenced against rabbits and foxes, and we divide it up with electronet into paddocks, depending on the season and the rotation with chooks and geese. We don’t ever let the goaties into the orchard because they ringbark the trees, and the one paddock containing fruit trees has electrified fencing around the trees to avoid ringbarking. Each day we take the goats out to the gully and tether them, or to a fenced off neighbour’s paddock to eat, and we bring them in with fodder each evening.

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

From a whole paddock (quarter acre), to the length of their tether, which is about 4 metres. When they are in their stall at night they sometimes have about 10m squared, but sometimes we open the adjacent paddock and then they have about an eighth of an acre and the dam to wander around at night time.

What do you feed them?

At breakfast time they get the equivalent of a one litre jug each of a mix of lucern chaff and a small amount of seconds grain from a local organic supplier. They also get a slosh of vinegar and a handful of kelp seaweed to cut down on methane. Every second day they’ll get a half teaspoon of minerals too – a mix of sulphur, copper and dolomitic lime (so a teaspoon. so 1/2 a teaspoon of sulphur, 1/2 of dolomitic lime and the tiniest pinch of copper, divided between them). During the day they’ll demolish a blackberry patch, and a lot of other grasses, shrubs and wild plum trees that they’re tied up next to.

In the evening we’ll bring them a large bundle of willow or oak (summer), and blackwood or tagasaste (winter) or whatever needs pruning. The amount is equivalent to a small tree – almost to my limit of what I can drag up the hill.

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

About an hour to an hour and a half each morning, because taking them out is very time consuming, depending on how far away the blackberry is. Then in the evening about half an hour to cut fodder and bring them in. We share the duties – I do three days a week of animal care, which included feeding chooks and collecting the eggs, and I keep the milk on those three days. Su and Dave share duties and milk/eggs for the other four days.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

We clip their nails every month or so. Their stall has a slotted floor so it’s relatively clean. We have dry spaces for them to be to avoid hoof rot. Su checks their condition to see if they need worming. We feed them a lot of diverse stuff during the day so they are healthy.

What’s been some of your key challenges in keeping goats?

  • Taking them out in the morning is a challenge, because they tend to run off in the wrong direction, and they are very stubborn. It’s much easier and less frustrating with two people, and I quite enjoy taking them out with Su and spending that time with her.
  • It’s also become more and more difficult for Dave to kill the baby goats as the years go on. Two years ago Pip adopted a boy goat from another farm when he was 2 days old, and even that was really sad when he was 6 months old and had to die. The goats grieve for their babies.
  • Our goats also retire here, so when I arrived we had Bet, who hadn’t been milked in 8 years, and was always getting her horns stuck in the fence and falling over. She died two years ago, and looking after her was very time consuming.
  • Chia had a wound on her udder and it has healed closed, so for the past two weeks we’ve been gently piercing the opening again, but it is slow and I would like to dry her off.

  

The above photo is of the blackberry slope that the goats cleared this winter. We had them there for a couple weeks, moving them a bit further each day. The canes will break down and now trees can be planted there.

Good Life Permaculture, urban Hobart

Hannah, Anton and Frida

What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

  • Our goats provide milk daily which we turn into cheeses and yoghurt (plus fresh milk of course).
  • They help manage the weeds on our property and in the nearby state forest. We inherited certain ornamental weeds which we use as a windbreak and cut fresh fodder from them daily. We also cut and bring home weeds from the nearby state forest. The weeds we have that we feed them include Tagasaste, Catoneaster, Photinia and Mirror bush. We also grow some Acacia for them, but it’s their least favourite!

How many goats do you have and what breed?

We have toggenburg goats. While we normally have two female adults, we momentarily have four in our space, two females and twin boy goats who are still very young. Once naturally weaned, these boys will move to farms as we don’t have the space to keep them here.

What type of fencing do you have?

We have a hardwood timber post and rail and mesh fencing. Goats love to use fences (non-electric) to rub up against, so these timber frameworks are nice and strong and provide their scratch post. They’re around 1.5m high.

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

Our goat’s yard is approximately 80m2 which includes their shed. We also tether them on our grass patches sporadically – but only when we can supervise them.

What do you feed them?

We buy in a mixed chaff (oat and lucern blend) and steamed/rolled barley grain. We feed them 2 litres of chaff (approx. 800g) and 600g of barley twice a day (morning and evening) for each milking goat and half that for each doe that’s not lactating. I’ll also cut fresh fodder daily for them and occasionally they get tethered on grass (when we’re home and can supervise).

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

I spend around 1 hour with them daily with them. This includes morning milking, feeding and cutting of fodder and then an evening feed. We only milk one goat in the morning.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

  • Our goats came from a wonderful farm, but also came with a level of worms. My understanding is that you can never really get rid of the worm population once you have them. So we manage them.
  • We make sure they have diverse diet of fresh fodder.
  • A mineral block which they can help themselves to any time – we have “Mineral Health Essentials + Copper” from Olsson’s (that’s the brand name).
  • We cut their toenails every 6 – 8 weeks to keep their feet healthy.
  • We’re still trying to find the right worming treatment that they’ll actually eat properly. I think our goats are a bit spoiled so they often reject the herbs we mix in with their feed. They’ll literally not eat their food (or not much of it) if they think “it’s not quite right”. So we’re still experimenting with the best system for them and have tried a wide range of things. This has included conventional drenching with a product call Panacur which has a one day withholding period from drinking milk. Apparently this isn’t strong enough for most commercial herds with worms as they build up a tolerance to it quickly. We’ve used it twice in 2 years and it appears to have helped manage the situation. However we’re also still trying to train them to eat the herbs.

What’s been some of your key challenges in keeping goats?

  • Finding experts to advise on natural preventative worming approaches which work well.
  • When they’re in heat (every autumn), they can get very noisy every 3 weeks for a few days at a time. One season the youngest goat also developed advanced jumping skills and they both jumped the fence. They only did this once.
  • Finding friends who can milk and look after them while we’re away. It’s not for everyone and we generally struggle to find someone who can “do it all”. Luckily we’re happy homebodies so don’t travel too much.

You can find a bit more detail about our set up on an older goat blog from 2017 here. 

Sue Dennet milks Gerty at Good Life Permaculture while Frida shows off her chook catching skills

Twelve Trees Farm, Cygnet (rural)

Jilly Middleton (Jilly no longer keeps goats on her property, the below is from past experience)

 What key function/s do your goats serve on the property?

We had between 15-40 goats over 7 years primarily to manage gorse, blackberries and thistles. We milked some and ate goat meat. We sold live goats to eat other peoples weeds as well. we also cuddled many, many goat kids.

How many goats do you have and what breed?

We started with 15, dropped down to 9 within the first year to strengthen the herd. we didn’t breed every year, we bought some in and sold some. We had some who were worry warts and were sold to backyards where they got lots of attention. We had some who were predisposed to getting their heads stuck in ringlock, they were sold or eaten. We had some that always had triplets and would struggle to thrive. We bred for hardiness, specifically for parasite resistance, and foot health.

What type of fencing do you have?

External fences are 90cm high mesh (sheep or wallaby ringlock) with a single or double strand of electric up top, and an electric single line on an outrigger about a foot off the ground. Internal fences are many and varied. We used gallagher ‘smart fences’ which had 5 strands of electric poly wire with tread ins, and made our own temporary electric fences with steel rods and insulators to graze strategically within paddocks.

How much space do they have in their paddocks/yard?

Too much, usually! The fenced part of the property was about 80 acres. one of our challenges was maintaining a large enough herd/small enough paddocks to have significant impact on the woody weeds.

What do you feed them?

Hay – the amount depended on the length of the winter, and whether the goats were bred. We also fed them propharma mineral lick, and a monthly week of worming herbs. This varied depending on what was available on the farm and in the shops- oregano oil (3 drops/day/goat, fresh garlic, nigella seeds, pine/wormwood branches, rosemary, apple cider vinegar, kelp were long standing favourites) we’d use kelp meal and lucerne chaff to mix with supplements.

How much time does it take to look after them per day/week?

Anything from 30 minutes a week to 4 hours a day in kidding season.  For about 5 months we’d supplement their diet with hay, some weeks we’d let them into a bush paddock and pop back once a week to check them all out. we trimmed their feet every 3 months or as needed. Once, we needed to do it every 2 months and that was because we were overfeeding minerals in the Pat Coleby style.

What type of preventative health approaches do you integrate into your animal management systems?

  • Eventually we bought the best stock we could afford, bred for resilience, destocked in bad years, made sure they had adequate nutrition and didn’t push them too hard. We’d take a year off kidding if we thought they were slow to recover/we knew we would be busy with a new baby (of the human type for us)!
  • Rotational grazing for parasite management and many experiments with mineral supplementation. We started with the Pat Coleby regime; using dolomite, copper, sulfur. That was a good starting place – copper can help control internal parasites, dolomite makes the copper safer for the goat, sulfur helps to control the externals. However its a blunt tool and misses some marks. We had some goats present with possible whilte muscle disease one year and we started using the propharma supp to efficiently get a nice mix of minerals in. If it were just a few goats, I’d be more excited about finding the organic mineral sources to feed the goats.
  • Herbal worm treatment took many forms depending on ingredient availability. We would tend to use it every few weeks for a week, and at specific strategic times. After kidding for the mums, at weaning time for the kids, the first warm wet days of spring. Keeping housing clean and treated with lime after wet seasons and/or suspicion of worms.
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Rodent-proof Chicken Feeder

Here in peri urban Hobart we have to stay on top of managing rodents and birds getting into our chicken’s feed. Over the years we’ve tried lots of different designs and none of them have worked as well as we needed.

Enter this beauty. While trawling the world wide web I stumbled across this design on youtube for an automatic feeder. People – it actually really works and does everything it promises to do. It’s bird proof, weather proof and rodent proof –  basically all our chicken feeding dreams coming true at once.

The basic premise is that the bucket is full of grain. A hole has been drilled into the bottom and a “ toggle” (aka an eye bolt with a chunk of wood attached) is installed which the chooks peck to access the grain – only a few grains at a time. This means they peck once, then quickly eat all the grain off the ground before doing another peck to get more grain – ensuring no excess grain is left out on the ground for rodents and birds.

One chook pecking the toggle which releases a small amount of grain. The other chooks have their heads down, eating off the ground. 

This is an automatic feeder which means you don’t have to tend them everyday (as long as they have access to fresh water). This means you can go away for the weekend or just improve efficiency in your garden tasks.

Oh, and it’s dead easy to make – here’s how…

Ingredients

  • One bucket with a handle and lid. I recommend either a 20 litre or 10 litre bucket so it can hold a decent amount of grain.
  • One eye bolt – we’ve used a 5mm one.
  • A chunk of wood.

Method

  • Using a 16mm drill bit – drill a hole into the bottom of the bucket. This size of the hole will vary depending on what type of grain you have. We have mixed grain with chunky sunflowers included – so our holes quite generous. If you’re not sure, start with a small hole and gradually make it bigger until you hit the sweet spot.
  • Drill a 5mm holes into the chunk of wood.
  • Poke the eye bolt through, with the eye on the inside of the bucket.
  • Screw the eye bolt into the chunk of wood – which I call “the toggle”.

Our mixed grain has different sizes in there so we’ve made our hole quite big to make sure they can all get through. 

The 16mm holes in the bottom of the bucket

The toggle (chunk of wood) with a 5mm hole drilled into it and the 6mm eye bolt. 

Poke the eye bolt through the hole with the eye on the inside of the bucket. 

Screw the toggle onto the other end of the eye bolt so it hangs as seen above. 

That’s it! Only three bits of materials to make the chook feeder of your dreams.

That’s it. Told you it was easy. Next up you can hang it in your chook run. Make sure you hang it from a chain or a steel rod so rodents can’t crawl along it to access the bucket.

Special thanks to Anton for making me a gorgeous spiral rod using the campfire as his forge. 

The other hot tip is to make sure it’s not too close to the ground that rodents could jump up to hit the toggle to release the grain.

And don’t worry about the chooks working it out. They’re very clever when it comes to food, and will have orientated themselves to it within one day.

This has been a game changer for us. The flocks of sparrows (small birds) are no more and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic the rodents that live in our neighbouring bushland wont find this one.

The feeding station, nestled between our worm farm (on the right-  an old bath in a timber frame) and the branch prunings from our goats which will be turned into woodchips or biochar. 

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Salvia Leucantha: Pruning & Propagating

The Salvia family is a beautiful one. We’re slowly but surely planting a large range of them in our garden. My current favourite is the Mexican bush sage (Salvia Leucantha) – I love it for its vibrant purple flowers which come in autumn and winter, exactly when we need them (it gets a bit grey here around then). Every so often we’ll seen a brave bumble or honey bee feeding off them in this time of the year when most other garden flowers are sleeping – so its everyone’s friend.

We’ve planted them at the base of a row of native Hop bushes (Dodonaea viscosa) which will eventually be hedged tight, with all the prunings being fed to our goats.

How to prune

In order to keep this glorious colour and fresh looking foliage coming back again and again, you need to prune them *hard* once a year. All you need to do is cut all the one year old growth to the ground once you see their flowers dying and fresh, new shoots coming out of the base.

The flowers start to fade towards the end of winter – this is the time to prune them. 

A fresh shoot (white stem) next to an older shoot (purple stem)

If you look to the base of the plant, you’ll see new shoots popping up next to the older shoots as seen above. Simply cut all the old shoots off at ground level. Because I wait for the shoots to come, I never have any bare ground. Below you can see a freshly pruned shrub in the foreground and an older one about to be pruned in the background.

Edit: A very helpful person on social media pointed out that they wait until there’s no risk of frost happening in their region before cutting the old growth out. So might not cut it until mid/late spring. We have a warm(er) microclimate in Hobart, close to the ocean, so don’t have serious frost issues. 

How to propagate from cuttings

You’ll be left with *a lot* of vegetation. Instead of just throwing this in the compost or chook run, you can make many, many cuttings from it to grow more plants. Because you can never have too many Salvias.

To propagate salvia from cuttings, cut a piece of the hardwood from the old wood with 4 – 5 nodes showing. Nodes are the part of a plant stem from which leaves or roots emerge, often forming a slight swelling. Make sure you have a node near the bottom of the stem.

Strip all the leaves from stems. As you can see below, I’ll often leave one small leaf at the top to help photosynthesise. But if any of the leaves start to wilt and die, nip them off and don’t worry, the cutting will still strike :-).

A cutting with a small leaf left on the top and 7 nodes. 

You can then plant up to 5 cuttings in each pot. Once they start setting roots in the warmth of spring you can move them up into their own pots to grow nice and big before eventually putting them into the garden.

For this batch I made the potting mix out of 40% compost (for nutrients) and 60% coco peat (to hold onto moisture) as this is all I had available. Usually you’d also put some sand in there for good drainage – but these are hardy cuttings that don’t need pampering.

And that’s it. I now have 65 Salvia Leucantha cuttings which will grow into vigorous bushes of glory.  And no, that’s not too many – I will happily home them all throughout our garden.

 

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Baby Blue Popcorn

Baby blue popcorn (Zea mays) is a miniature heirloom variety of corn. It’s quite hard to find any information about it online, so I’m sharing the little I know here to help you get orientated around this little gem.

Like all corn, it’s a heavy feeder, so likes lots of compost and water. And even though it’s a dwarf variety, it’s quite prolific with between 4 – 5 cobs per plant. If you’re able to, you can plant it out with the three sisters guild to get more yield from the space you’re growing in.

This corn isn’t for eating fresh, rather for drying and popping later – so after you’ve harvested, you need to let it dry. I do this by pealing back its “coat” and ideally hanging it up, as it makes for good decorations. But usually I just peal the coat off and pop it in an airy cardboard box under the kitchen bench.  Because, alas, I’m not that type of person who makes spare moments for decorating (often).

As it dries the colour can darken to a dusky, midnight blue. So pretty that I arrange it in lines and then in a mandala shape – cause it made me happy.

Now, the important bit – the popping…

To pop the corn, heat a pot on the stove with 1-2cm of oil on the bottom (we use olive oil). To make sure the oils hot enough, put one bit of corn in – it should pop quickly. If it doesn’t, wait for the oil to heat more. Once it’s all in, shake the pot every now and then to make sure all the corn gets popped. And after a few minutes or so it’ll all be done.

You’ll notice, the corn turns white once popped – slightly disappointing, but still darn tasty.

Where can you buy seed in Tasmania?

  • I got given seed by someone many years ago and haven’t been able to source it commercially. BUT I just noticed that Southern Harvest in Tasmania are saving some seed to sell. It’s not yet on their website (at the time of writing this), but get in touch with them to let them know you’re keen.
  • Seed Freaks (also have other types of heirloom corn which you can find here.
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How To Grow Beans For Drying (& Eating Later)

This past season we grew enough purple bush beans to eat fresh and save a bunch for drying and eating in winter. As we’ve got limited space, it’s not enough to supply all our needs, but we like trying new things each year and thought we’d experiment with how much we could do.

We grew purple bush beans, we’re fond of the bush variety as they require no staking – a major bonus in the time saving department. We planted two long rows with beans 15cm apart and transplanted them out to 30cm – 40cm once they had germinated. That’s not necessary – but I wasn’t sure on the viability of the seed as they were a bit old. Turned out their was nothing wrong with the seed, so we got lots!

We ate plenty of young, fresh beans in their early stages and then let the rest dry out on the bush until they were 90-100% mature. You can see the leaves below left starting to yellow and brown off. Ideally you want to leave the beans on the bush until you can shake the pods and here the beans rattling inside.

We left them in the ground as long as possible, but had to pull them to get the winter garlic crop planted, so some of the beans were more purple than I was planning. But not to worry – I simply left them in an airy brown box for a few weeks inside to dry out thoroughly before shelling them.

Halfway through the harvest

For a small batch like this you could simply pop them into a pillow case and bash it around to shell the majority of them quickly. Or, like me you can do them one by one each night as a form of mediation to slow my busy brain down over a few evenings.

The next thing to do is a grading process to make sure there are no rotten or mouldy culprits slipping through. We ended up having a pile for the chooks and a small bowl for eating right now – these ones were cracked or slightly damaged, but will still taste delicious.

And then into a glass jar they go for winter soups and stews.

Wondering whether it’s not worth your time to grow and dry your beans? Well considering how cheap organic beans are to buy from the local shop, it doesn’t really make sense. However it *is* worth your time if you’re interested in learning new skills and having beans that don’t take as long to cook and knowing where your food comes from. All the good things. Would we do it again? Absolutely – next season we’re thinking of growing the borlotti bean for drying as it’s larger size appeals to us.

Here’s to many wintery bowls of bean soup and stew!

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Do Cold Frames Actually Work?

The short answer is yes – but let me elaborate….

We built a cold frame in late 2018 to create a warmer micro-climate to grow early season tomatoes and eggplants with ease. You can see below how we built it here.

Some of you have asked how it’s gone in its first season. Very good thanks – it went (and is still going) very, very good. Below is some evidence of this.

We ended up harvesting/eating tomatoes 6 weeks earlier which is the best treat ever and eggplants?  In the past growing eggplants usually involves a bit of pampering to make sure they have enough warmth – but this season I’ve only paid them attention when harvesting bowls of them. That’s a nice turn around.

The only minor downside is that this cold frame ended up being a bit short for the eggplants (the tomato plants were a bush (short) variety so didn’t have this issue). But as this only became an issue later in the season (when it’s warmer) we have simply left the lid notched up as you can see above.

Prolific fairy tale eggplants

Likewise with basil – we have much pesto in our fridge and freezer and fresh basil on everything. Abundance!

The cold frame is now slowly coming to a natural end. Over winter we’ll grow a mixed green manure crop to rest and feed the soil so it can get ready to do it all again next year.

In addition to the cold frame, we planted 12 tomato plants (in normal outside beds) which are still pumping away. There’s been so much pumping we’ve almost filled our pantry shelves. And that’s what we call winning!

Usually we’d buy some tomatoes to preserve in our fowler vacola jars – but not this year. This year it’s 100% toms from our garden (plus other fruits and veggies). A maturing garden and gardener (with more skills) is the most beautiful thing.

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Grafting Tomato Plants & Native Kangaroo Apple Shrubs!

The world of grafting plants is wonderful and wacky. You can start with just one pear tree and graft a range of other fruits onto it that are also in the pome family – so you could end up with a pear, apple, medlar, quince *and* nashi tree (plus more). Wow. So even if you only have room for one tree in your garden you can still have a range of fruits.

Sometimes the plants you can graft together are less obvious. This season we grafted some common tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) onto the native Kangaroo Apple shrub (Solanum laciniatum) which are both in the Solanaceae family (aka the nightshade family).

Kangaroo Apples are a hardy, quick growing, evergreen shrub that grow to 2.5m. They have blue/purple flowers followed by poisonous green fruits but that turn edible when ripe. Importantly they’re incredibly tough and will happily grow in average soils with no, or little moisture – whereas tomatoes need lots of compost and water to thrive. This means you can grow delicious tomatoes in areas where you have less fertile soils. It’s a bit magic.

Kangaroo Apple shrub thriving in the foreground and Frida and goats thriving the background. 

Here’s how we did it…

There are many types of grafting techniques, we did what’s called a bark graft. For more detailed instructions on bark grafting, see our previous blog on bark grafting our wild plum here. You basically chop the tree or shrub down to a stump (or just chop a branch off) and seen below.

You then gently peel back the bark and green cambium layer and place a number of tomato branches inside it.

The tomato branch is cut at an angle that means it can slide into the large branch of the Kangaroo Apple. 

You always add more than one branch of the desired plant species you’re fostering – this is so there’s more chance of getting a yield as it’s common that not all grafts will “take” and be successful. Below is one of the finished products (we did two branches) with graft tape holding everything in place and some Tree Stac which protects wounds from unhealthy bacteria or disease moving in.

A few months later and the graft is looking completely different. Two out of three of the tomato “branches” were successful and we’ve been eating tomatoes off them for weeks.

That black surface is the aged Treesac goop and the graft is growing over it. 

The particular variety of tomato is a local one simply called “George”, named after a Greek market gardener who’s since passed away. He grew and sold this amazing tomato which is large in size, but is more of a  shrub – so requires no staking (awesome). Hence, it sits at the bottom of the Kangaroo Apple shrub as seen below. We had some seed gifted to us from Fat Carrot Farm and it’s now our favourite tomato to grow as each plant has huge yields and requires less inputs (mainly staking).

In closing, I’d just like to say that plants are awesome, nature is the best and I love gardening!

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Our Pet Rabbits

After many months of asking and negotiating, Frida Maria convinced us to welcome two female rabbits into our home. The things us parents do.

Rabbits have reeked havoc on the Australian landscape. I remember visiting relative’s farms in western Queensland as a young kid devastated by rabbits, so there’s something in me that doesn’t want anything to do with fostering them. And if I’m honest, I haven’t fully resolved that. But I have resolved that a small person taking responsibility for animal love and care is a very good thing. Also, Grace and Sophie (the rabbits) are mostly located under the giant trampoline we’re looking after for a friend (for multiple years it seems), so they’re doing a fab job of managing the grass that we couldn’t access there. They’re working for us, while going about their own business.

Doesn’t the jumping up and down on the trampoline scare them?

Yes and no. They appear to be incredibly ok with it. We’re also going to build a rabbit tractor (similar to our old chook tractor below) to move them around the grass as our lawn mowers.

We have Dutch rabbits which will grow to up to around 2kgs. When I asked Frida what might happen if one day she doesn’t want rabbits anymore, she said “we’ll eat them”…  Hmmmm, well see.

Anyway, part of the arrangement is that Frida has to help with all the jobs. We drew/wrote up an agreement below which she signed her name against each job, promising to do each one daily. The “F” and love heart is her signature on the right.

It turns out Anton and I are quite fond of little rabbits, here’s a few of the dozen photos I took with Sophie and us this morning…..

  

While Sophie’s up for cuddles, Grace is a speedy, independent, not interested in cuddles type of rabbit. I admire her for that.

Frida’s face says it all really. The love is real. Time will tell if she was telling the truth when she promised to do all the jobs she signed her name against on the “bunny agreement”. Regardless of that, we’re up for the challenge and willing to welcome these little fluff balls into our property where they’ll help mow the grass, teach our kid responsibility and care and provide cuddles to those that can catch them.

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The Self-Cleaning Chook House

If you’re about to build yourself a chook house, we highly recommend a self-cleaning version where there’s no build up of poo at all inside the house. As well as saving yourself time, this creates a healthy environment for your chooks.

We built our chook house from salvaged pallets over 4 years ago and it’s still perfect. Since then we bought the neighbouring patch of land and have shifted the chooks and their house to flat ground and given them more space. It works *so* well.

The key features to this design is that;

  • It’s raised off the ground and its leg’s length can be adjusted,
  • It has an external egg hatch meaning you can harvest eggs without having to go into the run, and
  • The floor is made from strong wire mesh, allowing all poo to fall straight through to the ground beneath.

Sketch showing a profile of the chook house. This particular drawing is for a client’s garden, not ours.

Peak hour in the nesting box!

The inside of the chook has includes a number of branches (roosts) that the chooks sleep on and drop enormous amounts of poo from. 

Under the chook house we’ve placed a “poo catcher” (we use an old bread crate found on the side of the road). This catches some of the poo and makes it nice and easy for you to simply drag it out with one quick motion.

But of course, the chooks poo everywhere and we still end up scraping out a decent amount into a wheelbarrow, as well as what falls into the bread crate. So technically, you *do* still need to participate in the cleaning process – but you don’t have to get into small spaces and scrape poo off timber. It’s approximately one million times better this way.

As there’s a nice mix of dry straw and chook poo (mostly dry and old), I then put it straight onto one of our many fruit and nut trees. Today the mulberry and hazelnut trees got it.

A happy mulberry tree (and Frida in the background).

I then put the bread crate back under the house with a sheet of cardboard in it (to cover all holes) and wait for more poo.

But surely that pile of poo smells under the house?

No. There’s a significant amount of straw in there which prevents any smell from happening. It’s a nice blend of carbon (straw) and nitrogen (poo). Perfect. I only harvest poo from here every few months or so.

Don’t the chooks get cold with that mesh floor?

Chickens are hardy birds and we’ve found no negative impact on their health or egg laying, so I say no.

Do they fall through the mesh?

Chickens are originally jungle birds. This means they’ve evolved to sleep in trees on branches or within shrubs. Their feet are designed to curl around and hold onto different “roosts”, so this mesh floor is 100% fine for them to walk on. Saying that, this is on the larger side – usually we’d find mesh with smaller holes when building them for other people. But overall this is completely fine.

There you have it, go forth and create self-cleaning chook houses in peace and relief of never having to scrape poo off awkward spaces again. You’re welcome :-).

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Home Compost Booklet

We are pleased to finally be able to share this little bit of news with you. This year we were lucky to work with the City of Hobart and local illustrator Rachel Tribout to create this free booklet all about Home Composting!

As part of their Zero Waste Strategy, we’ve been collaborating with the City of Hobart to run free compost workshops for hundreds of Hobart folk this year – 420 folks to be exact over six workshops. Half way though these, we decided to turn my student notes into a proper awesome book to make them more accessible and beautiful. This is the result which you can now download for free from the Council website.  

And here’s a little peak inside some of the pages…

It’s our hope that this free resource helps people get started, or keep going in composting some (or all) of their food scraps at home. Because turning kitchens scraps into garden gold (i.e. nutrient-dense compost) at home is easy and darn effective in building soil health, preventing methane gases harming our atmosphere and helps store carbon in the ground. Plus it’ll give you enormous satisfaction in participating in the wonderful world of food and nutrient cycling – it’s a good feeling, trust me.

 

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