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Posts from the ‘Gardening’ category

Food Forests

Come for a tour of a few of our small food forests to learn what they are, the plants we’ve included and how they play a key role in our steep landscape.

This is the 11th video in our Good Life For All series. Each Monday I’ll pop up a video to help inspire folks in building climate resilience for their homes and communities.

How can food forests help build climate resilience?

Two key ways are…

  1. Food forests are perennial plant systems. Perennial landscapes have minimal disturbance to the soil and have abundant soil cover with a diverse range of plants. Overall, perennial landscapes are more stable and on a large scale can help store significant amounts of carbon in the ground. Great for countering the climate emergency.
  2. When it comes to food production, once established perennial food systems like food forests can produce more crops with less inputs for longer amounts of time. This is highly useful to build resilience into our food production patterns.

More resources

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A Reading From My Book, ‘The Good Life’

This past week I launched my book in nipaluna at the Town Hall with Kirsten Bradley and 300 other new and old friends. It was very special for me to be able to share this moment with so many beautiful souls.

Dear friend, Kirsten Bradley and me 🙂

To celebrate the book coming out into the world, this week’s ‘Good Life For All’ video* is a reading of the last chapter of my book!

While the book includes lots of practical tips for the home, kitchen and garden – at its heart it’s about how to grow a better world (and a good life) for all. This little snippet gives you more insight into just that :-).

*This is the 6th video in our Good Life For All series. Each Monday I’ll pop up a video to help inspire folks in building climate resilience for their homes and communities.

You can snaffle a copy of your own at your local bookshop or online here. 

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Worm Farm Tour

As part of our Good Life For All videos we’re uploading to Youtube weekly, I filmed a little tour of our large worm farm to show folks how it works and why we love it so much. Enjoy!

DID YOU KNOW: Keeping food scraps out of landfill and returning them to the Earth isn’t just about benefiting your patch. It’s also wonderfully effective in preventing methane emissions – a toxic gas up to 28x more harmful than C02… So when you’re composting – you’re taking part in a meaningful climate solution.

More resources

You can see previous worm farm related blogs I’ve written over the years below:

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How To Prune A Young Fruit Or Nut Tree

For our second video in our Good Life For All series I show you how to prune a young fruit or nut tree. This method can be used for most fruit trees to shape them for maximum yield.

Pruning can be confusing

For anyone who’s researched pruning, you’ll notice there’s an overwhelming amount of ways to prune a fruit/nut tree. So it can become confusing to know which one is the the “right” way. Over the years I’ve tried a range of methods and you know what – most of them have worked. My point being, don’t freak out if someone tells you you’ve done it wrong, trees want to grow and, even if you do make a mistake, they’ll heal/come back and continue to mature into fruiting beauties.

This video is a prime example of just that…. Technically I should have held off to prune these almond trees until summer (as that’s when folks recommend you prune all stone fruit to avoid the risk of a disease called Cytospora canker), however I needed to treat them for rust which involved spraying a lime sulphar and copper spray on them before spring (same treatment you use for curly leaf on stone fruit). I also really needed to shape them before they put too much energy into growing into a shape I didn’t want. Pruning them in late winter made these things possible. ALSO I’ve pruned lots of stone fruit in winter over the years out of necessity and they’re all still healthy. But I do try and stick to the rules as much as possible – life just often doesn’t work out like that!

I hope you enjoy this weeks video :-).

Resources

For more general information on living a good life…

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Deep Litter Composting With Animals

When keeping animals in domestic yards you need to avoid having bare earth, instead you can have a deep litter.

A what?

A deep litter imitates a forest floor which is soft and spongy – made up of deep layers of carbon and nitrogen (fresh and old leaves, sticks, branches, dead animals, rainfall etc). Some folks refer to it as a slow, composting system as the end product can be cycled back into your edible landscapes. Without a deep litter your animals end up living on bare earth which becomes problematic with the build up of their manure. Without any carbon materials (straw, woodchips, hay, mulchy stuff) to absorb and balance out the manure, the whole yard becomes stinky and gross which can compromise the health of the animals. Not cool.

In our home we have a deep litter system for our chook and goat yard – they share this space with the chooks who also access a nearby forage space through a little passage way.

Around two times a year we dig out the run and replace it with fresh woodchips. In between these times I’ll often add a thin layer of woodchips as a little top up – especially during winter when it’s very damp. By the time it’s ready to be dug out it’s already half composted material (see below). It’s beautiful, doesn’t smell gross and is well on its way to becoming invaluable compost for our food systems.

Half composted woodchips, mixed with goat/chook manure and rainfall. 

When we dig it out, the first place we put it is into some compost bays where it’ll sit for quite a few months to finish the composting process. While the finished product will look like stunningly beautiful compost, we learned the hard way that the carbon content is still very high so you’ll most likely still need to add some nitrogen into it so it doesn’t compromise your food crops. Our sad story is that we added some mature compost onto our annual garden beds and then watched in horror as our crops had a major attack of “nitrogen draw down”. This simply means their isn’t enough nitrogen to support healthy plant growth. It was easy to fix (by adding blood and bone), but we lost some time in our precious summer growing season. Won’t be doing that again!

Compost station with THE view

Hot tip

I use large, coarse woodchips as they last longer which means I don’t have to dig out the yard as often. You can source woodchips from your local arborist for free or cheap, so it’s worth calling around. Just make sure you check what trees they’ve mulched so you don’t accidentally import lots of weedy seeds.

The finished product is highly satisfying for everyone. And for those who are wondering, no the goats don’t eat the woodchips. They definitely have a little nibble but spit them straight back out.

Also, I couldn’t get them to pose for this photo below as Jilly (the black one) is on heat and can’t stand still (or be quiet) and Gerty was trying to get a cuddle from me. I love them.

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How To Use Eggshells In Your Compost & Chook Systems

When you have chooks, you have lots of eggshells which can become super annoying in the compost bin or worm farm as they JUST SIT THERE FOREVER. Like I said, super annoying.

They’re also a rad source of slow release calcium which is beneficial for your compost systems, soil and chickens if you can feed it back to them in a fine enough form. Which we do.

My most recent story with Gardening Australia shows you how we do it – you can watch the whole thing below.

But in summary…

  • Collect your eggshells until you have a good stash.
  • Roast them in the oven at 180 degrees for 10 minutes. Roasting them helps them become extremely brittle – perfect for the next step….
  • Pop them in a large bowl and use a glass jar to smash them up. Think of it as a giant mortar and pestle. You can end up with a pretty fine substance after a few minutes of smashing.
  • Then you can either pop them in your compost bin, worm farm or mix it in with your chook’s food.

So quick, so simple! You’re welcome :-).

Very rad photos by Nat Mendham xx

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Portable Chicken Tractors

As our property is so steep, integrating animals into our food gardens hasn’t been able to happen as much as the permaculture text books imply it should. For example if I put our chickens into our orchard, they’d scratch all the mulch and top soil down to the bottom of the hill – and I would cry. It just wouldn’t work here. So we have some work arounds including using a chicken tractor to move chooks through out veggie patch strategically.

Chicken tractors are a useful tool to integrate chickens into your veggie garden in a controlled way where they don’t trash all your crops. We made a recent one out of scraps lying behind our shed. While it’s not going to win any prizes for craftsmanship or beauty, it does the job :-).

This past season, we’ve been using the chook tractor to help raise up some chicks we hatched. 

When do you put them in your garden?

The best time to activate the chook tractor in your garden is in between crops. So when one of our crops has been harvested but still has lots of green mater available, we pop the chook tractor on it and the chooks scratch, eat and peck it apart – until it’s blended back into nice looking mulchy soil. They also drop their manure which helps “feed: the soil. For those folks freaking out about fresh chook poo on the garden (usually not recommended as it’s very strong), a little bit is ok, so you can remain calm :-).

Popular chook tractor designs

Look, there’s heeeaaaps of chook tractor variations, such as did you know you can use an old trampoline and a-frame swing set as structures? Below are a couple outlined in more detail which I think are easy to build and are also portable.

The a-frame

One of the easier ones to build, the one you can see below is from an older rental house we lived in while in naarm/Melbourne. This version is built to be on either fresh grass or the veggie garden you can see behind it. Importantly it’s a light weight version and the chooks were put back into their main run and house each evening (which was also fox-proof). But during the day a couple could have a go at being in the tractor as needed.

The chook dome

The chook dome is designed to fit circular beds and popularised by permaculture author Linda Woodrow in her book ‘The Permaculture Home Garden’. It’s good for people with more flat land and interested in the mandala garden framework.

From DMK Permaculture

Purple Pear Farm mandala garden with chook dome peaking out in the corner. 

Key design considerations

While there are many design variations on the chicken tractor the portable versions all share some common design elements. Mainly…

  • They’re nice and light (or have wheels and handles) so one-two people can move them easily.
  • They’re made to fit the size of your veggie beds (or rows) so they’re 100% efficient and compact moving through the food garden. Sure you can just shuffle them around a grassy area, but it’s a wasted opportunity to integrate them into a food-producing system.
  • They all have a weather-proof shelter so the chooks can be protected from rain, the hot sun or predator birds which might want to come and get them.
  • There’s also a small roost for them to jump up and hang out/sleep on – imitate a tree’s branch (chooks are originally jungle birds).

Are they fox proof?

Usually no. We don’t have foxes in lutruwita/Tasmania or other predators in nipaluna/Hobart where I live, so we can be more relaxed about the design.

Do the chooks live there permanently?

Definitely not. They’re not big enough to keep chickens happy all the time. The exception is if you only a have a few in a large’ish tractor and you’re moving them daily (to fresh ground) and checking on them multiple times to make sure they’re happy. But generally the idea is that they’re visitors that come and go – returning to a larger, main yard where they can stretch their legs as desired. If for some reason they can’t be moved daily I make sure I dump lots of greens in there twice a day for them to eat and scratch up – you might also need to pop some straw/carbon in there as well to soak up their manure and make sure they have a healthy surface to be on.

Our chook tractor with a fresh load of comfrey leaves in there for them to eat

The main aim of the game is to build soil health in your food gardens and show the chooks a good time with fresh greens and grubs to eat. Done well, it’s a wonderful, symbiotic system where everyone wins.

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How To “Un-Cluck” Your Clucky Chook

Each year in or around spring, between 1-6 of our chooks will get clucky. This simply means they’ll stay in the nesting box sitting on any available eggs and try to hatch them. A futile activity at our place as we have no rooster. The reason why this is problematic comes down to two things:

  1. Once they go clucky they’ll stop laying eggs. This is the key reason we have chooks, so it’s not ideal when lots of them are on the cluck.
  2. Their clucky energy and presence in the nesting box freaks out the other chooks (who aren’t clucky) who can then also stop laying eggs. Meaning we’ve gone from having 8 eggs a day to 2. And the two eggs that are laid are laid in strange and hard to get to places every day (like under the goat’s milking stand) because they’re busy avoiding the clucky hen in the nesting box.

The two main ways to break the clucky cycle are to:

(a) Place some fertile eggs beneath them and wait for a few weeks for them to hatch. They’ll then fulfil their parenting dreams and the cycle will be broken. We’ve done this with one of our clucky hens and currently have six fluff balls running around with their mumma. But there’s only so many baby chicks you need.

The other way is…

(b) Manually break their clucky-ness by isolating them in a safe, yet less comfortable space to inspire them abandon the nest. This is how we do it.

Remove them from the main nesting box and house so the other chooks can reclaim that space and remember how to lay eggs again. We moved ours to a seperate space within our goat shed where she want be disturbed (by goats). This area is completely weather and predator proof.

We use a recycled milk crate to contain her on a timber pallet shelf (weighted down with rocks and tied with some twine so she can’t push it over) with lots of airflow and no straw to nest on. You don’t want to give them a cosy bed to keep nesting on as they’ll just happily keep being clucky.

The timber shelf allows maximum airflow

We also make sure there’s easy access to food and water – the milk crates are handy as they have large holes she can poke her head through for this.

Then we leave her there for 2 – 3 days, checking on her regularly morning and night. When you do release her watch to see what happens – if she heads straight back to the main nesting box, then she’s not ready – give her another 24 hours. But if she starts wondering around and re-integrating with the rest of the flock, then the cycle has been broken.

Some folks say this is a bit rough, and I hear you. But what’s even rougher is having all your chooks go clucky, not getting any eggs and then having to buy in eggs from elsewhere with potentially unknown animal-handling practices which may be extremely unethical and sad. I’d much prefer to be able to manage the clucky cycle as outlined above and know where my animals products are coming from – and that they’re being cared for ethically.

This relatively quick process will see your chooks back in the saddle of egg laying and not freaking each other out with strange clucky vibes :-).

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