Posts from the ‘Gardening’ category

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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Our Compost Station

The stuff of dreams this is. We’ve been talking about it for quite some time and we finally finished it. Introducing our dream Compost Station.

FYI – that rogue chook shouldn’t be there

We’ve got humanure bays, a compost bin, worm farm, chickens and goat systems all clustered into one compact, pretty spot and it’s awesome. Why is it so awesome?

It’s wonderfully efficient having all these systems in one place. We can just go to one place to drop off food scraps, humanure and animal manures into various compost options. When I harvest chook or goat poo from the neighbouring yard, it’s dead easy as it’s all on the same contour and I only have to move it a leisurely 1m – 10m. So good.

The worm farm also functions as a seat so we can hang out and watch the goats in comfort (we like to do that a lot). Plus it’s rodent proof, being built from a enamel bath and hardwood frame. You can see a photo journey of it’s construction below.

Anton showing off the false floor needed for drainage, made from reo and shadecloth. 

Worm bedding is then placed directly on top. We’re using half composted straw, nice and moist for the worms.

You can then add chopped up food scraps straight top (and the compost worms)

A layer of damp cardboard (or a hessian sack or woollen blanket) keeps the flies away and moderates temperate and moisture. 

You can read more about building your own worm farm seat (or potting bench) here and what compost worms are here.

The humanure (from the compost toilets) system is ergonomic, tidy and safe with no lifting or handling of raw poo/wee. We’ve got a number of wheelie bins retrofitted to be the chamber for an inside compost toilet. There’s a tap on the bottom of each bin which directs all urine to underground infiltration system – very similar to what’s being done here. Once a bin’s full, it’s swapped for an empty one and the full bin sits in on of the bays until it’s composted for approximately 6 months (that’s what those two green bins are doing). Once ready, it’s then transferred into this new bay where it finishes the composting process with compost worms. At this point there’s no unpleasant smell at all, it’ll stay here for another 6 months or so at which point it’ll return to our orchards. Wheelie bin toilets are awesome – check out Natural Event and The Humanure Handbook for more inspiration.

Edit: You also need to know that we have a flush toilet and that this compost toilet is optional, not for public use and all inputs highly monitored :-). 

There’s not much in it at the moment, but it’ll build up over time. The front timber panels can be removed one by one for ergonomic access. 

Tree prunings we harvest for our goats can be stored easily while they wait to be chipped and put back onto the garden or into the goat/chook run. We harvest weedy Cotoneaster daily for them from our local forest and cycle the carbon back into our landscape once the goat’s have stripped all leaves off the branches. Until now, I’ve been make awkward piles of sticks and branches which get in the way of everyone and thing, not any more. That one cross piece you can see across the front is to help contain them.

The compost bin is rodent proof with a layer of vermin mesh added to its bottom to stop rodents creeping in. You can read and see how we did this here. 

The black bin to the right of the worm farm below is full of dry, brown carbon materials to add to the compost bin and occasionally into the worm farm if needed. Having a stash of ready-to-go carbon on hand helps your compost experience be a successful one as if you only put food scraps into a compost bin you’ll create an anaerobic disaster.

It’s beautiful. Built from salvaged corrugated iron from the local Tip Shop and hardwood timber from a local person’s bush block, it’s completely gorgeous. Why hide your compost bin/system behind the back shed where it’s cold and dark (and you never want to go) when you could integrate it into the hub of your garden?

One of the permaculture principles is “produce no waste”. While a lot of the success with this principle is wrapped up in reducing consumption, it also questions what we do with the waste we produce – this Compost Station is part of our answer for our property. Every morning I drink my morning cuppa staring out the window at this gorgeous creation of efficiency and nutrient cycling heaven.

Special thanks to Anton who built it for me – the ultimate expression of love.

Wondering what we do about large hot compost piles?

  • We like to make hot compost piles in different spots around the garden to benefit different patches of soil – once it’s mature we just spread the compost in place which is easier. So they’re a moving feast that we only make in Spring and Summer when we have bulk garden waste from crops we’re pulling out.
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Tagasaste (tree lucerne): Friend or Foe?

Tagasaste or tree lucerne (Cytisus proliferus), is a small evergreen tree that grows 3-6m high (depending on soil and rain) and is a popular plant for people looking to regenerate poor soils and feed livestock.  It’s indigenous to the dry volcanic slopes of the Canary Islands and was introduced to Australia some time around 1879 when seeds where sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England to the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

Image from Pastures Australia

It has a varied reputation across Australia. While some farmers and land holders love it and swear by it for its incredible ability to grow in the shittiest of shittiest soils and provide nutritious fodder for their livestock – others dedicate their lives to removing what can become an invasive species if left unmanaged. So if you’re looking to start a lively conversation with folks who only want natives in Australia, this plant will deliver just that.

Permaculture has some baggage around spreading weeds. I’ve heard people say things like “permaculture is nothing but a strategy to spread weeds” and “permaculture gardeners are messy, they’re just propagating invasive species and they’re so lazy they let them get out of control.”

I’m sure sometimes this has been true. But I bet $5 (I’m not loaded) that when it comes to spreading invasive plants, I reckon ornamental gardeners have more to answer to than permaculture gardeners. I write this as I look out across a hillside of “native” bush which has thick understory of cotoneaster. A local who’s lived here since the 1960s told me that after the devastating 1967 fires that literally burnt most of Hobart, cotoneaster was one of the few plants that thrived in a burnt landscape, so ornamental gardeners planted it. Fast forward to now and it has firmly integrated itself into our whole peri-urban bushland – it’s become naturalised. I should know, as every day I harvest large branches of it for our goats. That and hawthorn – the other ornamental weed that’s making itself at home in local bushlands.

But this is not a blog about who’s a worse gardener or land holder. It’s a little dive into our relationship with plants and how we respond to the inevitable traveling of plants from one continent to another and the naturalisation that occurs after plants exist for decades, thriving in particular climates and soils.

I sit on the fence with this one. We live in urban Hobart where plants such as ornamental weeds including cotoneaster, willow, ivy, privet, and mirror bush (to name a few) are fostered in private gardens. As small-town-Hobart is also tightly hugged by bush, there are also a range of “environmental weeds” such as gorse, tagasaste and boneseed that *pop up everywhere*. I do believe that to remove all these weeds is impossible now. Their seeds are in the soil waiting for the right conditions to grow. Most, if not all – have naturalised, meaning they’re here to stay and now it’s up to us in how we respond to them.

Before we go any further, let me be very clear that I do not advocate actively introducing ornamental or environmental weeds into areas that don’t have them. For example properties neighbouring national parks, wild grasslands, pristine coastlines or vibrant water ways should be protected and maintained for the precious, unique ecosystems that they are. For these places, the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE)  promote planting native “tagasaste alternatives” to get a similar function, specifically Prickly box (Bursaria spinosa) and hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) in dry areas and local Tasmanian native acacias for high rainfall areas.

But for urban and peri-urban areas where weeds are naturalised, wouldn’t it be interesting to look at how we can co-exist and evolve side and side? Again, I’m dead keen on maintaining native biodiversity *everywhere*. I’m just not keen on spending the rest of my life poisoning weedy plants in the name of native is best and everything else must die. 

So what do we do in our own garden? Tagasaste has popped up everywhere. We pulled out most the baby trees as we don’t need 1000 of them. However, we saved around 10 and interplanted them between our fruit and nut trees to act as nurse trees for the next 5-10 years or so. Nurse tree functions vary, in this case the tagasaste is fixing nitrogen into the soil (improving its health) and growing more quickly than the fruit and nut trees – therefore providing eventual wind protection (we have gnarly winds). As a major side bonus, they’re already providing fodder for our goats who love the fresh branches and leaves. You can see its nutritional benefits for livestock outlined below.

Comparison of tagasaste foliage with other common stock feeds

Chart from Permaculture Plants, Jeff Nugent & Juilia Boniface – sorry about the bad scan. 

Let it be know this is the only “environmental weed” we’ve actively fostered on our property. I’m always pulling out baby boneseed and gorse. We happen to have inherited an old windbreak made up on cotoneasta and pittosporum which we’ve chosen to keep due to those gnarly winds I mentioned above. Other than this, we plant only natives and fruit/nut trees and diverse shrubs.

So is tagasaste a friend or foe? I love and respect all plants and all unique ecosystems.  At the end of the day it comes down to your environmental and social context. In our case, tagasaste is a friend, but a bloody well managed one.

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Cold Frame Gardening

Recently, we built a much anticipated, beautiful bit of infrastructure for our garden – a cold frame.

This is a welcome addition to any cool temperate garden, where we’re all constantly working on creating warm microclimates to extend our season to get tomatoes earlier and longer, reliable eggplants and abundant basil.

Cold frames can be really compact and small, so are also a great option for people who don’t have a large enough space for a hot house or polytunnel. We still have plans for a hot house one day (specifically for oranges and bulk ginger), but in the meantime we have this 7m x 1m cold frame for annual vegetables and herbs.

What did we build it from & where did we locate it?

We built it from green (fresh) hardwood timber from a lovely bloke’s bush block in Franklin (southern Tasmania) and polycarbonate sheeting.

We located it up against a north facing rock wall (south facing for folks in the northern hemisphere) so it soaks up the hot sun and acts as thermal mass, retaining the heat for longer to benefit the crops growing  in front of it.

Things to know about building with hardwood timber for garden beds

  • Eventually it will rot – but not for around 10 years (approximately).
  • If you can access it and afford it, Cypress macrocarpa timber is the most durable timber to use in the landscape. We couldn’t afford it, so are using a mixture of Eucalyptus trees.
  • To extend the timber’s lifespan, you can line the sleepers with non-toxic plastic to prevent direct contact between the timber and soil. While not shown in these photos (sorry) this is what we’ve done.
  • We’ve built the frame so the timber sleepers can be removed and replaced as needed.
  • The actual frame has separate timber pickets on each upright to stabilise the whole frame (seen in photo above right). Eventually we’ll replace these with steel star pickets – again to extend the life of the frame.
  • You could just not use timber and use bricks/stone for the edging and steel for the frame with concrete footings – all maximum durability! We’re just using what we have available to us.

Once the whole frame is built, we aerated the soil with a broadfork – just use a standard garden fork if that’s all you have.

After this aerating process, we put down a layer of cardboard to slow weeds coming back (they *will* come) and then a good layer of top soil around 200mm deep to match the height of the sleepers and a sprinkle of compost on top.

And then we plant!

Normally people in Tasmania plant their tomatoes after “show day”, October 25th. Traditionally this is when you can safely say there’ll be no more frost – although occasionally there’ll be a “freak” frost. This year we planted a small batch of tomatoes on September 21st. One whole month early – we have big smiles on our face in anticipation of eating tomatoes sooner rather than later. We have another batch of tomatoes we’ll plant after show day in different open air garden beds.

In another few weeks, we’ll plant basil seedlings all around these tomatoes to make use of all the available space.

Importantly, the lids can open at different heights to let small or large amounts of air in. This is important as on hot, sunny days you need to ensure that air flow is maintained, otherwise there’s the risk of fostering fungal diseases.

As we get really strong winds at our house we put a lock on each lid. One year our whole broccoli crop was literally blown out of the ground – so we take our wind-proofing pretty seriously around here. You can see our lock of choice to the right.

Eating with the seasons is a wonderful way to eat. That first tomato of the season tastes really *amazing* after 6 months of no fresh tomatoes. But this little bit of infrastructure reduces that waiting time – some might call it cheating, we just call it clever :-).

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Broad Bean Rust

Our little broad bean crop has rust caused by the pathogen Uromyces viciae-fabae. I noticed it weeks ago and despite my best intentions, didn’t get around to treating it in its early stages.

Where does it come from? Generally from infected seed. We did introduce some new seed this year and suspect it came from here. However, it also travels on wind – so it could arrive from your neighbour’s garden. Prevention of rust includes making sure there’s good air flow in the crop, having clean seed and treating it as early as possible.

Two DIY treatment options include spraying the infected plants with 1 part milk to 10 parts water – this is the same mix used on powdery mildew for zucchinis, cucumbers and other members of the cucurbit family. The second option is mixing up 2 litres of water, adding a few drops of vegetable oil (or other type of oil), a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid and 4 teaspoons of bicarb. Mix well and spray on infected plants. The bicarb soda makes the leaves alkaline which can prevent fungal spore development.

Importantly, you need to apply these treatments when its not raining heavily (or about to) so they have a chance of sticking around on the plant surface long enough to be effective.

This diagram on the left from Agriculture Victoria outlines the life cycle of the rust and really emphasises the importance of having clean seed to prevent it from recurring season after season.

We wont save any seed for planting from this crop. Instead will harvest what we can, eat the beans (fresh and dried) and make sure the plant matter is taken out of our nutrient cycling systems in our property. We’re fortunate to have a local council with a commercial composting facility – this is where we take any diseased plants as their large, hot composting eradicates any pathogens so aren’t passed on into the mature compost product. 

As our plants are predominantly being impacted at their base, I’m hoping the hundreds of flowers up top have a chance to turn into beans before too much rust spreading occurs. Fingers crossed.

We’d love to hear about any treatment options you’ve had success with – so comment below to share the goodness :-).

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How To Rodent-Proof Your Compost Bin

If you’ve got unwanted rodents living in your compost bin a simple and effective way of keeping them out is by adding vermin mesh onto the bottom of it.

Vermin mesh (aka rodent mesh)  is made from thick wire (around 2mm) and has small squares that baby rodents can’t squeeze through. While it does start to rust after 5 years or so, it’s an effective way of composting food scraps without inviting all the rodents in your neighbourhood to move in at the same time.

Vermin mesh

The first step is to pick up some vermin mesh from your local hardware shop – we got it in a roll of 5m as we know we’ll use it for bits and pieces around our property. Some shops will sell it by the metre – just call around until you find the best place.

Roll it out, place your compost bin on top of it and cut off the right amount you need, keeping a few inches available around the whole bin.

Next up, cut the vermin mesh into a rough circle shape and then simply start folding the mesh over the edges of the compost bin.

I used my boots to help press it down firmly. It doesn’t have to be perfect – just strong enough that it grips onto the edge, which is really easy. You want to be able to take it off again (when your compost’s mature) so I made it reasonably loose.

And that’s it! So quick and easy. The only tools you need are some good wire cutters.

From here you can locate your compost bin somewhere convenient in your garden. We’ve placed ours near our chooks and goats who we feed every morning, this makes it easy for us to place food scraps in there on the same trip – effeciency plus!

You can also dig the compost bin into the soil 200mm to create another barrier to the rodents from getting in – but generally the vermin mesh is enough to do the job. 

As you can see below, we’ve got a second bin with a lid on it to store dry carbon materials. This makes it easy for us to add a small bucket of carbon with each bucket of food scraps that goes in. We also make sure we chop up our food scrasp to the size of a 20 cent coin to help them break down more quickly.

For something that take less than an hour to do, you’ll be kicking yourself you didn’t do this years ago. Happy rodent-free composting!

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A Permaculture Holiday

A couple of months back I took myself on a little holiday to central Victoria. I left my family goats and garden and went and hung out with someone else’s goats, family and garden and it was good. Where to? To Melliodora – home of David Holmgren and Sue Dennet *and* the mob from Milkwood, Nick, Kirsten and Ash.  You’ll also find permaculture illustrator, Brenna Quinlan living there in a tiny house. So yes, an unusually wonderful place to visit for a tired permaculturalist.

I spent my time planting some of their crops, harvesting crops, eating crops, patting goats, reading books (luxury), drinking tea, drinking cider and admiring a range of gardens. The wonderful thing about  admiring other’s gardens it that you don’t see any of the jobs that need to be done, just the beauty that’s been created.

Here’s some of my admiring I unearthed from my phone today – forgotten amongst hundreds of work photos from client’s properties. What a beautiful reminder of a brief, but beautiful holiday. I’m putting it here to remind you all to take a break and go admire gardens (in the company of amazing humans – or not) as needed.

The red soil garden 

Ash and I had a lot of quality time in the fig tree – one for the basket, three for me. 

David and Sue’s home flanked with their zone one veggie garden.

While in the region, I dropped by Artist As Family’s home to officially meet them in the flesh (we’ve been social media friends for a while) and drink tea.

Meg, Patrick and Woody live here and are a little bit extraordinary in how thoroughly they live their ethics. Their urban block is on the edge of town and pumping with food and community, but they’re not aiming for self sufficiceny – rather, community sufficiency.  So instead of trying to produce all their practical and emotional needs themselves, they’re working on fostering a regional community that lives lightly on this planet and tightly in each other’s connections. I love them.

  

And no – I didn’t take any photos of people (except Ash)  I was too relaxed to think about that. Of course now I wish I’d lined everyone up for at least one shot as it’s so rare you get to spend time with the people you admire most. Instead I have their gardens immortalised in film – which is the next best thing.

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Urban Goat Keeping

We have two female toggenburg goats, Gerty (the mum) and her daughter Jilly Love Face.

Despite having some wonderful “goat friends” locally and in other parts of the country, I still found it hard to get information on how to set up our urban system which we did in September 2017. This is the blog I wish I could have read at the time – hopefully it helps a few folks out there looking to give urban goat keeping (and milking) a go.

Our context

Our main incentive to have goats is to be able to access ethical dairy. While we have just over 3/4 of an acre, we’re less than 3kms from Hobart city, so it’s very urban all around us. Our property is incredibly steep which meant we terraced it to form some functional spaces. Our two goats live on one of these terraces. They don’t free-range across the whole property as we have extensive vegetable gardens and large orchards they would destroy, instead we tether them around the garden at key points where they can eat grass and shrubs. We also take them for little walks down the local bush track to get some exercise.

The front gate leading into the goat yard. The chickens also share this space – that’s their blue house on the left. 

What goat breeds are good for small spaces?

The two breeds I know that are appropriate for this type of goat keeping are toggenburgs and saanens. I’m sure there are more, I just don’t know about them.

What do we feed them?

We feed our goats four main things, rolled barley, dry pasture hay, mixed oat/lucern chaff and a range of fresh fodder.

What fresh fodder? We have a lot of weedy bushland to the south of our property that’s on Council land. We harvest weeds from here and occasionally allow them to graze there (with us). We also chop and feed them fresh prunings from our weedy windbreak (featurning Cotoneaster and Pittosporum trees).

We also tether them around our garden on a 4m chain in key areas where they can eat grass, herbs and shrubs – but not our food crops.

Plus we’re growing fodder trees for them. This includes silver wattles and tagasaste (tree lucerne) that have self sewn on our land. We tansplant the baby seedlings to where we want them to grow and will prune them over the coming years to an appropriate shape for our garden. Here’s a list of plants you can and can’t feed your goats.

Mineral supplements: We also have a mineral lick permanently available in their shed, it has 16 ingredients ranging from copper, calcium, phosphorous, bentonite, iodine, iron and more.

I also have some seaweed meal I add into their feed bucket occasionally, however if they don’t want it, they’ll somehow manage to leave most of it in the bucket.

Interestingly, goats don’t eat everything. They’re incredibly fussy eaters and I spent a sh*t load of time working out their diet for our urban context. We’re now in a good rythym, but those first few months were hard work.

Frida with Jilly who’s being tethered near a comfrey patch for her munching pleasure. 

Gerty and Jilly eating the weedy banana passionfruit vine that’s trying to eat our house!

How big is their permanent yard?

Their permanent yard is approximately 70m2 which includes their shed.

Importantly, we make sure there’s always a thick layer of woodchips and/or straw on the ground so there’s never any risk of them being on bare soil or mud.

We’ve also arranged some timber pallets and logs for them to run and jump on – goats will get board if they don’t have an obstacle course they can play on.

Isn’t that a bit small?

It would be if that’s where they spent all their time. We also walk them and tether them around our garden, so they get a lot of diversity.

What about their fencing?

We don’t have an electric fence – just standard wallaby fencing with star pickets. This has been mostly fine – with one exception when Jilly was on heat* and somehow got out. We assume she jumped the fence, but we didn’t see it happen and it hasn’t happened again – fingers crossed.

*Goats turn into lunatics when their on heat – she’s since returned to her normal, chill – but perky self.

You can see the fence to the right – it’s a bit wavy as they like to scratch their backs on it. We just need to tighten it up a bit, otherwise it’s fine. 

What’s their milking shed like?

We built the shed from recycled timber, timber flitches and other materials including relocated slabs of concrete the excavator pulled up from our garden – this forms the floor (which has straw on top). The shed has three sections;

  1. The general hang out section which includes the milking stand,
  2. The food storage section (that they can’t access), and
  3. The pen, which is  a small room we put Jilly (the younger daughter) in while we milk Gerty to stop her from jumping all over us. When she was a baby, Jilly would spend each night in this pen – read next section for how this worked.

Our goat shed plan – not to scale

While we’ve planted lots of trees all around the goat yard, there’s currently no natural shade – hence the shade sales. Over this next year I’d like to make them another shade shelter as the summer’s are so hot here. 

Two 44 gallon drums for storing feed – keeps the rodents out of it. 

Jilly with the milking stand to her right

You can see the mineral lick and hay feeder to the right of the goats

How do you milk for yourselves and still have enough milk for the baby goat?

We keep Jilly and Gerty together all day, meaning when she was still feeding, Jilly could help herself to milk as needed. Every night around 9/10pm, I’d place her in the small pen (with straw and water) so she wouldn’t drink all the milk over night. Early each morning (at sunrise) I would then milk Gerty for our own use. Directly after this, I’d let Jilly out of her pen and they’d be together for the next 16 hours of so. This worked well up until Jilly was weaned…

How did we wean Jilly, the young goat?

We didn’t. We let Gerty (her mum) make this happen. Recently (in Autumn 2018) they were both on heat, as Jilly was only 7 months old (and we want to rest Gerty) we didn’t mate them with a buck. Interestingly, once they came off heat Gerty would no longer let Jilly anywhere near her teats.

This was great for us as we really didn’t have a way of weaning Jilly in such a small space. A common way of weaning kids is to put them in a separate paddock than their mums. They can still see each other and kiss noses, but nothing else. We don’t have this option in our space – so we’re quite releaved it happened naturally.

How do you treat worms and other health issues?

These two goats came off an organic goat farm where they were treated with herbs, minerals and good pasture/food. When they arrived, Jilly was just two days old and in perfect helath, while Gerty was a bit run down from being pregnant and living through a rough winter on pasture. She had a small section of staff on her udder which was spreading, was a bit under weight and had signs of worms. This is what we did…

Staff: After doing an enormous amount of research, spending too much time on goat forums and trying every natural remedy we could, we ended up treating her with zinc cream and lavender oil which our good friend and naturopath, Thea Webb, actually recommended. Within hours this treatment started working – to my absolute relief!

Weight: You can actually buy a product called “weight gain” for livestock, it’s a rich mix of high protein grains you add into your chaff mix. For unknown reasons Gerty would eat around it and not consume any. In small amounts (no more than .6kgs per day per goat) oats and barley are highly effective options as well. I initally ended up spending a bit too much money of organic oats (I panicked) and eventually learned rolled barley is a fraction of the price and just as effective. These days I mix in a small amount of barley (rolled) in with their chaff each morning and night.

Worms: I ended up getting a vet out to check out Gerty as her poo which was forming big clumps instead of small pellets and her eyelids were a pale pink when they should be a vibrant pink colour – both potential symptoms of worms. The vet tested her poo which showed she had small levels of barber pole worm – blood sucking parasites that cause anemia and even death. While they had previously been treated only with essential oils, minerals and fresh pasture, I chose to drench Gerty this one time (at least) as I was sooo out of my depth and wanted to get her back to top health asap. It worked really well and I’m relieved we went down that track. She started putting on weight easily, was a lot more perky and generally “happier”.

These days I’m on a preventative treatment program with worms. Every month I add organic oregano oil mixed with some water into their feed for one week on and one week off – I repeat this for two cycles. So far this appears to be working well. I’m still on a steep learning curve with goat health, so watch this space for more preventative approaches.

How economical is having a milking goat compared to just buying dairy products?

Buying organic, ethical dairy from farms we believe in isn’t overly cheap – and neither should it be. We would easily spend around $50 per week on milk, yoghurt and some cheese.

Buying food for our two goats for one month is roughly around $150, so a bit cheaper than buying organic, ethical dairy*. However we (happily) spend between 30 minutes – 1 hour a day with our goats, so it takes a lot of time – as they should. If we were to price our time in looking after them, then it isn’t economical at all.

But I don’t believe economics should be the only way to measure whether something’s worthwhile doing. Conventional dairy is cheap because it has nasty practices that have negative impacts on the environment and disastrous ramifications for animal wellbeing.

*Update – August 2018: We’ve now stopped buying in feed bales as they weren’t eating them. Instead they have a chaff/barley mix and fresh fodder (tree branches and grass). This has bought the monthly feeding fee down to approximately $70. 

Should everyone keep goats if they want ethical dairy?

No. I don’t think everyone should run out and get dairy goats as it’s not for the faint hearted. They’re very real, big, beautiful animals that need a lot of attention. I think for most people, they should just spend a bit more and buy organic, ethical dairy – in Tasmania, that’s Elgaar Dairy.  We chose to have goats for a few reasons;

  1. I couldn’t think of a more ethical way to access dairy. On this micro level – our goats get a lot of attention and care. 
  2. We work from home, this means we can really invest in our landscape and the animals that live here. 
  3. I love goats and want to spend a lot of time with them. They’re not just milk suppliers for us – they’re wonderful, caring, smart animals to hang out with – better company than a lot of humans.

A few other things

  • We only milk once a day – in the morning.  Currently we’re getting around 2 litres each morning – this will slow down over winter.
  • With the milk we get we make yoghurt, feta cheese, halloumi cheese and ricotta. Update – Aug 2018- Anton’s now also making hard Tomme cheese and blue cheeses.
  • We feed our goats an oat/lucerne/barley mix twice a day for breaky and dinner.
  • Every 6 – 8 weeks we clip their hooves, it’s such an awkward, hard job that’s our least favourite thing to do (just a little heads up for you).
  • Now Jilly is almost adult size, walking them takes two people as if they get spooked by a car – they can *really* run. They’re stronger than me.
  • If you have small kids of the human type, watch them around the goats. Our goats like to head but our 3 year old Frida as she’s smaller than them (and really loud).
  • You can never have just one goat – you have to have at least two, otherwise they can get depressed (seriously). And no, having chickens or other types of animals doesn’t replace the company of another goat – it has to be another goat.
  • Unlike the goat milk you buy from the shop, fresh goat milk doesn’t taste “goaty” at all. It’s quite sweet, clean and darn tasty. The goaty taste comes after around 5 days (ish), it’s not a bad thing at all – but I personally don’t like it very much.
  • Will we have goats forever? It’s highly possible, but we’re very realistic about it all. If our goats obviously weren’t happy and needed a different context we’d give it to them, i.e. find a farm for them to live on. We only want a wonderful life for them.

Want to know more?

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DIY Worm Farms for Tiny, Medium & Large Gardens

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

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

Compost worms in mature worm castings – soooo good!

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

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

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

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

The worm farm tower

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

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

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

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

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

The bathtub worm farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

The windrow worm farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CalPhos Nutrient Solution

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

In the words of The Unconventional Farmer… 

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

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

Step 1

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

Step 2

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

Step 3

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

Step 4

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

Step 5

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

Step 6

After 20 days, strain and filter the liquid.

Step 7

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

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

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

 

 

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