Half-Time Garden Update – Part 2

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It’s amazing how many things you can do in a garden that I didn’t know about before. Solutions to problems, opportunities to grow things that would not normally grow in this part of the world, and tricks to make your soil healthy. I’ve discovered the joys of composting, worm farms and mulching, and started experimenting with a whole lot of plants I never bothered with before.

In The Greenhouse

I had a very poor tomato harvest last year, which came down to a combination of overcrowded and poorly supported plants, and invasion by rats. What fruit didn’t rot on the floor was munched by rats as it became ripe. The plant supports were not sufficient to hold the plants up, so they collapsed and lay on the ground, creating a steamy jungle of tomatoes that the light and air could not penetrate.

So this year, with the flash new greenhouse and sturdy supports in place, I was determined that my tomatoes not suffer the same fate. I started Hungarian Heart and Amish Paste from seed, and planted one variety along each side of the greenhouse, leaving room for my tropical fruits and capsicum plants in the back. I put in quite a few alyssum seeds to bring bees and outcompete weeds, and added a few cosmos and calendula along the front of the beds for good measure.

The tomato plants grew well, and as they got taller and started to set fruit I found myself obsessively removing the non-bearing laterals to keep the air circulation and light through the lower reaches of the plants. Sometimes I brought out great armfuls of snapped-off branches. I wasn’t completely sure that it was the right thing to do, as some studies show that you get more fruit from not removing branches, but it seemed to fit with my understanding of why the previous crop failed.

It seems to be working. The low fruit are starting to ripen and they are looking good. I have several plants along the Amish Paste side that definitely do not look like Amish Paste, one in particular has nice round red fruit more like a Grosse Lisse. A couple of plants on this side have suffered from blossom end rot, which may be related to the heat. Hungarians are my tomato of choice for bottling, as they are easy to peel due to their size, and I was mainly growing Amish Paste to prove that it could, having had trouble with them previously.

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Hungarian Heart tomatoes turning red in the spacious lower parts of the greenhouse.

In the greenhouse I have also grown basil successfully for the first time, and my capsicums are starting to fruit. This is the first time I have grown California Wonder from seed as well.

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Happy little capsicums, on a bed of alyssum, with basil in the background.

Fruitful Endeavours

The succulent Dragonfruit is growing like crazy, and its neighbour the Brazilian custard apple remains cheerful it its pot.

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Dragonfruit climbing up its support.

Over in the warmhouse, the avocados are putting out lots of new growth in response to more regular watering, and threatening to collapse under their own weight. I will keep an eye on them and possibly prune the crowns back in winter if they don’t become strong enough to stand on their own.

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Young avocado tree working hard.

My citrus have also expressed a liking for plenty of water, showing a real possibility of growing some fruit to maturity. The little potted orange tree I look after has several developing fruit, and the Tahitian lime on the front porch looks like it may bear again if I look after it. My lemon tree seems to have finally recovered from the -7* frost-nuking it got a few years ago, and the front porch Valencia is putting out lots of new growth.

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Developing oranges on ‘Granddad’ the orange tree.

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My lemon tree is beginning to flourish again.

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The Valencia on the front porch, showing lots of new growth.

Elsewhere, my figs have recovered from a sneaky late frost that took all of their early leaves and the Preston Prolific is living up to its name. The Mariposa plum tree has about half a dozen fruit ripening under its net, and the little Elder tree is starting to show signs of putting in some growth.

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Happy fig tree with its young fruit.

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The Mariposa plums are starting to ripen.

A Forest of Food

What relative newcomer to Permaculture is not inspired by the idea of a food forest? A collection of interconnected plant guilds, set up for minimal maintenance to produce all sorts of edible goodies.

I was struck by the idea to turn a big neglected raised bed into such a space. With a big Honey Locust at one end, and a previously undiscovered olive tree at the other, I embarked on the huge job of clearing all the weeds and grass and filling in the gaps with desirable species.

The bed is probably 15m long and a good six or seven wide at the broad end. Among all the lost and dead things are a giant flax plant and along the way I also found a couple of seedling plum trees and a large silvery bush that smells like curry. I pulled several trailer loads of weeds from this garden, starting at the narrow end nearest the house, and set about filling in the gaps.

I started with three small apple trees and a pair of hazelnut bushes, and built around these, adding sages, flowers, aromatic plants and herbs. Species include the ever-reliable alyssum, more calendula, borage and nasturtium, a stevia plant, pineapple sage, the Permie’s friend comfrey, lemon and lime balm, a Balm of Gilead grown from a stem picked at Chestnut Farm, and a small but determined feijoa tree. I also have yarrow, rosemary and something called pizza thyme that I could not resist.

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The front section of the food forest.

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Balm of Gilead claiming its place.

Having lost several young stone fruit to leaf curl, I learned that you can grow them from seed, and that although they take a few years longer to fruit, the resulting plants are much hardier than grafted trees. Since a dead tree is never going to fruit, I decided to give it a go. I saved pits from a few nectarines and peaches and much to my surprise, in the spring some little trees emerged. These are now growing under the Honey Locust.

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White nectarine, grown from seed, with no sign of leaf curl.

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This olive tree stood unnoticed in this garden for two and a half years. Now it has become the inspiration for my food forest.

Free Plants

As well as stonefruit trees grown from pits, and vegetables grown from saved seeds, I had a go at propagating wormwood from cuttings. A few have already made it to the farmyard where they are surviving despite a few raids from determined goat kids, but this one took a bit longer so has grown to quite a size in its pot. It will join the others once the weather cools down a bit.

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Wormwood, struck from a cutting in a re-used pot.

Pond!

I’ve wanted a pond for ages. Inspired by a work colleague’s garden ponds, I bought a simple black pond liner, dug it in a few inches, and built around it with rocks and soil. Then I added some plants to the outside and situated a magnolia next to it that I had found languishing in another garden. The magnolia is happy for the water, the little creepy plants around the edges are doing quite well, and the collection of plants in the water are growing rapidly in the warm weather. I’ve had a few transient Eastern Banjo frogs pop in, and the local birds love having a good spot to get a drink. I am looking forward to the pond lillies blooming and hope that the system will work without a pump once the plants start to cover the surface more.

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My pond. Yes, those rocks were heavy.

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The magnolia was not too bothered by being uprooted in summer, it is very grateful for all the water it gets now.

What’s Next?

From here there will be many weeks of watering, weeding and the harvesting will start to ramp up. As harvest time hits high gear, preserving becomes a high priority. The tomatoes are about to take off, which will mean many afternoons of skinning and bottling fruit, making salsa and passata. The zucchinis are also gearing up for their high-yield time, meaning lots of zucchini pickles, zucchini slice and zucchini chocolate muffins.

Many of my plants are a few years off producing much, especially my little fruit trees, but they still need to be maintained and cared for.

I’m not into ‘low maintenance gardening’, I love to spend hours working in the garden, connecting with the earth, getting my hands dirty and marvelling at how things grow, the amazing variety of food I can produce, and the hundreds of things I can do with that food. But the more that the design reduces the workload, the more things I can add to my garden. The more I learn, the easier things get and the more surprises and miracles I can work in my yard.

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Half-Time Garden Update – Part 1

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So here we are at about the halfway point of the summer vegetable growing season, and things are going pretty well. After spending many weekends during the first half of last year studying permaculture and taking pages of notes on tips and things to do in the garden, I was absolutely raring to go when the growing season began.

Armed with a whole lot of new information and a big, flash new greenhouse, I started making some plans. I sorted my seed collection and purchased what I needed to fill in the gaps.

Start With Seeds

I’m a bit of a sucker for the instant gratification that comes from buying seedlings, but I decided to put more of an effort this year into growing plants from seeds. So I gathered up some of the many punnets kept from bought seedlings, bought some seed raising mix, and got to work.

With the pumpkins I planted a combination of bought and saved seeds. I had never successfully grown pumpkins from seed before, so I wanted to maximise my chance of success.

Add Some Flowers

Another thing that I did this year that was different from previous years was grow flowers. I had always been of the opinion that it was a waste of water to grow things you can’t eat, but I have since learned of the importance of flowers to bring bees and other beneficial insects to the garden. I set about creating floral borders and flowering understoreys, as well as using them to fill in areas that would otherwise be overtaken by weeds and grass. Borage, alyssum, and calendula, as well as a few cosmos and nasturtiums, have started to take hold around the garden, some happily self seeding, and providing a range of benefits. I am particularly keen to expand my use of calendula, which I initially grew to put in tea, but now hope to infuse in oil to use in soap, as it is great for your skin.

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Establishing a border of calendula (with a couple of marigolds) around the garden beds.

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Chamomile

I have also grown a heap of chamomile, hopefully enough to keep me in tea through the winter.

Berry Time

My three year old blueberry bushes produced their first fruit this year. After a few failed attempts at growing blueberries, I have managed to keep these plants alive for three whole years, and they are growing slowly and starting to bear. It’s a humble beginning, but it’s a reward for years of persistence.

I’ve also had my best ever crop of raspberries so far, having discovered that raspberry canes like a good prune, lots of water and not too much competition. Most of the raspberries have not made it into the house, as I tend to eat them straight off the bush, but I did manage to collect enough to make some banana and raspberry muffins.

I managed to beat the slugs to a few strawberries as well, and eventually I learned that watering in the morning can help deter the slimy thieves. I’ve started a new strawberry bed in the berry nets, filling in the space that had been occupied by a patch of amaranth taller than myself. Turns out the goats quite like amaranth, so I was able to repurpose it as a goat treat.

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Strawberries staring to spread themselves out. There are a couple of open pollinated fancy varieties in the baskets.

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Berries for my smoothie 🙂

Vegetable Medley

My pumpkin seed all sprouted, which was amazing, but once planted out they were easy prey for slugs and I lost most of the first lot. So I took the slower seedlings and transplanted them into bigger pots so they could grow bigger before I sent them out into the world. This worked quite well, and I was able to establish about half a dozen plants in a recently-mulched bed in the mandala garden.

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A few fruit set early in January, and the plants seemed to be sprawling and doing well. I read that watering in the morning was better and more efficient than watering in the evening, so I took up getting up early to water in the morning. The pumpkins soon let me know that they wanted to be watered twice a day, and I lost several young fruit before I noticed this. But in the last few days, with plenty of water, we have set several new fruit that seem to be growing well.

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The corn was another challenge, and after the seeds I sowed direct into the bed proceeded to do pretty much nothing, I tried a different approach and started some more seeds in punnets. I covered these babies in cloches made from cut-off soft drink bottles to protect them from blackbirds who love to dig in the mulch and knock little plants over. As a result, I have a thriving little patch of sweetcorn.

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The onions went in as seedlings back in Autumn, and seemed to take forever. For a while I was concerned that I had bought the wrong kind. But eventually they grew plump and I was able to harvest them. They are now nearly cured and ready to store.

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Another new trick I picked up was using sheepyard mesh to support plants. This was very useful for my tomatoes, and also for my climbing beans and peas. The shape of the mesh also made it possible to grow peas and beans over a path, rather than having the void underneath take up space in a garden bed.

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I’m not a huge fan of beans, I find them rather bitter, but these Australian Butter beans are not bad. They have yielded very well and been part of several dinners. I started these from seed in punnets as well, and once they grabbed hold of the mesh, they took off. Very rewarding to grow.

Defying the Laws of Nature

I did that thing everyone says not to do and grew a whole lot of cool season plants in summer. Usually you end up with your plants being mercilessly devoured by white cabbage moth larvae. I planted kale, cauliflower, turnips and broccoli, and while I did a few rounds of physically removing little green caterpillars, the plants did not get as damaged as I expected. In particular, I had the best broccoli crop I have had since the year I first grew vegetables, and I even grew them in the small greenhouse. The plants should have been chewed to bits and bolted in the heat, but I am still harvesting shoots. I wonder what part the resident frogs have played in keeping caterpillar numbers down.

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This mess has yielded my best broccoli crop to date.

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Lots of broccoli, and even a bit of cauli for dinner. With cheese sauce – yum!

Celebrate Diversity

I’ve also attempted to get away from single crops in garden beds. This bed got a nice purple alyssum border and was the home of my amazing beetroot crop as well as a couple of zucchini, kale, cauli and turnips, and now the lettuce which is filling in the gaps left by the vegetables that have been harvested. All of my beds contain multiple plants, even if it is just a few rogue potatoes popping up between the main crop.

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I’ll follow this up with another report on my fruit, greenhouse and food forest adventures, as well as the installation of my new pond.

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Biggie surveys the mandala garden.

Restocking

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When you get used to having 30+ birds in your flock, being brought back down to less than ten is quite a shock. In some ways there is relief at having less beaks to feed and less birds underfoot. It solved the ongoing problem of ducks bathing in the back troughs. But it also puts gaps in the group, and this absence of birds and the gaps it creates lead to new problems.

I was left with no mature rooster, no drake and no gander. And four flighty Muscovy hens, very keen to sit on eggs. At entirely the wrong time of year for purchasing a new drake. Most breeders either had their main working drakes who they did not want to part with, or recently hatched boys a long way off being able to work. I advertised a few times, scoured the poultry sales pages, and nothing came up. Meanwhile I was having to evict cranky Muscovy hens from beautifully crafted nests to save them the bother of sitting on eggs that would never hatch.

While Debussy the gander was not particularly aggressive as far as ganders go, his presence did lead to Agnes the goose displaying a dogged determination to create a nest, lay some eggs in it and defend it, which was a nuisance. But without her mate, Agnes was clearly lonely, and took up attempting to mate with the Muscovy ducks, who were unfortunately happy to let her. A goose has a serrated beak, and a longer neck than a duck. Agnes’ misplaced breeding instincts led to ducks being bitten around the head by that serrated beak. They lost skin and feathers, and one duck nearly lost her eye.

I tried keeping the goose separate from the ducks, but the ducks would fly into the pen with the goose. I had decided to replace the gander with another female goose to avoid the problems associated with a breeding pair of geese, and as my poor ducks were repeatedly mauled, this became more and more urgent. Again, wrong time of year, most female geese were sat on eggs or raising goslings, and I could not find any for sale.

We took a trailer load of goats the Bendigo Show, where Titania was awarded Champion goatling and received a cash prize. After the judging was completed, we went for a walk around the show and wandered into a shed full of poultry accessories and various birds for sale, including a pen of young female geese. So that is the story of how Titania the goat bought a goose.

I selected a bird, and after a bit of a fuss where a couple of bantam pullets escaped and had to be retrieved from under tables of bird cages, Matt carried our new goose to the goat trailer, where she traveled home in the kid cage. Gertrude, aka Gertie Goose, soon became friends with Agnes and within a few days the duck maulings ceased and my goose quota was back in balance.

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Matt carrying Gertrude through the Bendigo Showgrounds.

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Agnes and Gertrude

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Don’t mess with Gertie Goose.

After some months of asking around and searching sale pages, I finally stumbled on a Muscovy drake. I was willing to travel up to 90 minutes to buy one, so insistent were my ducks that it was hatching season, but in the end I only had to travel to the next town. I picked up a scruffy two-year-old drake from a fairly large flock. He had no name, so in keeping with the M names for Muscovies, I named him Murray.

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Murray the Muscovy

I have heard repeatedly that Muscovy drakes are aggressive, and always thought I had hit the jackpot with my old drake Muscles, who had been hand raised and was a wonderfully friendly bird. But after a little over a month, Murray has proven also to be quiet and friendly, and while he is not quite confident to eat out of my hand, he does follow me quite closely to make sure I am bringing the food and to see if I have anything edible about my person.

Once Murray had arrived, my black and white duck Moana was quick to set herself up with a nest and start putting eggs in it. I had to take the first few because it takes about a week for a duck to lay fertile eggs once you introduce a drake to the flock, and she ended up sitting on only two. They have both hatched, and are perfect. I have another duck sat on 13 eggs, tucked securely behind several pieces of wire mesh, and these are due to hatch in about a fortnight.

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Murray’s first ducklings, hatched by Moana.

But from loss there can also be opportunities. Through pure chance, I was left with only a pair of related buff Silkies. I have always wanted to breed buff Silkies, but only ever had the occasional one pop up in a clutch. So with no mature rooster, Prince Harry the buff Silkie was allowed to grow up into the position of boss chook. I bought an unrelated buff hen, which gave me a buff trio consisting of Prince Harry, his sister Citrine, and the new hen Fanta. Citrine soon got to laying, and I let her sit on six eggs, of which five were fertile and hatched. Of those chicks four were buff (the other is white), and it looks like I will have two buff pullets to run on. This gives me a fairly stable little family of buff Silkies to breed on with.

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Prince Harry

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New girl Fanta, with her epic pompom.

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Citrine with some of her chicks.

I also picked up a couple more red laying hens to back up old Josie whose eggs have poor shell quality these days and don’t make it back to the house without breaking. One hen, Summer, lays an egg every day in a well-concealed abandoned duck nest. The other hen, Sandy, is suspected of stashing her eggs out behind the shed somewhere and while we found one nest a little while ago, I have not been able to find where she is laying now.

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Sandy’s nest is in there… somewhere.

There is one vacancy I would still like to fill, and that is a friend for dear old Ramona the Silver Appleyard, whose sister was killed. Ramona is going on six years old and is currently our only quacky duck. She doesn’t fit in with the Muscovies, and doesn’t fit in with the geese. Although she does seem quite happy, I hope to find her a quacky duck friend.

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Ramona Appleyard, all alone in the middle of the flock.

Me and You and a Dog Named Boo…

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It began with Rohan stating ‘um… there’s not enough poultry in there’.

When you round up the same flock of 30-odd birds every day you get a sense of how many there should be, even before you employ the head count. Being nine birds short is pretty obvious.

We found one of the missing birds. At least, we found her body. One Pekin duck confirmed dead. Five Silkies, one Hyline, two Pekin ducks and a Muscovy missing, one Muscovy refusing to come off the dam. Ten birds gone in broad daylight. They call it ‘dispersal’, when young foxes leave their family home and go looking for their own territory. Young foxes lack the life experience to be cautious and leave their hunting to night time.

Six days later it came back. Four more birds dead. The boys spotted the geese wandering in the front yard and went to investigate. The geese had flown out of the farmyard to safety, most of the ducks had fled down the paddock, but poor Muscles my beloved tame Muscovy drake, too heavy to fly and still recovering from his fight with the gander, was killed. Also killed was my last Rhode Island Red hen, my evergreen little bantam Australorp and my senior Silkie hen.

I felt completely helpless. In the two and a half years since we moved to the new house, we had only lost a couple of birds, and those were ones who ventured to the far reaches of the property. The foxlight and the night pen kept the majority safe from predators. A killer that struck during the day was a whole new ball game.

We built a pen for the remaining three Silkies and one Hyline layer in the house yard out of an trampoline frame and a 1000lt water container. We planned a new chook yard within the house yard that the dogs could patrol. And then the killing stopped for a while. I moved the chickens back to the farmyard.

When I came home one afternoon to find that not only had the rest of my Pekins been killed, but also my large 6yo gander, I began to despair. A 6yo gander would put up a much bigger fight than a newborn Anglo Nubian kid, and my young does were due to kid in a few weeks. I was desperate to keep not only my birds but also my new kids safe.

We had talked about getting a Maremma before Rufus the barn cat came along, but decided that a large dog was not compatible with the cat. I had more recently asked about Maremmas and cats on a livestock guardian dog discussion group, and been assured that cats and LGDs could and often did live happily together.

I got on Facebook to see if any dogs were available nearby and by pure chance found pups for sale locally. A couple of messages and a phone call and I had bought a Maremma pup. He would come home the next day.

Boo was an unbearably cute white fluffball. He took to the goats straight away. He is not allowed out with them unsupervised yet, but he has the makings of a good livestock guardian. Most importantly, we have not lost a single bird to predators since he arrived.

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Boo just after he arrived.

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Breakfast time, day 2.

Boo is now about six months old, and parks his front paws squarely in my chest when he greets me. He loves to go down the paddock, roll about in the grass, and curl up with his goats. He is also fond of chasing goat kids at times, so he is still kept restrained unless there is someone to watch him and tell him off if he gets too rough. But his guarding instinct is clearly evident in the way he responds to strangers and the way the goats will all seek shelter and huddle together when Boo makes his Big Dog Bark.

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Boo at nearly 6 months.

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#maremmaselfie

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He is slightly bonded to his humans too.

I have started to restock my poultry. I was left with four Muscovy hens, one red layer, two buff Silkies, one of my Silver Appleyard ducks and a goose. Down from a mixed flock of 30 birds. I have added a couple of red laying hens, as well as another buff Silkie pullet, and another goose to keep poor lonely Agnes company. I still need another Muscovy drake. My older Silkie hen is currently sat on six eggs, so hopefully we’ll have a few more Silkies before too long.

The cat was originally unimpressed with the big fluffy pup in his farmyard, but he has grown used to Boo and is no longer bothered by him. They are not quite friends, but they have an understanding.

It takes at least 12 months for a Maremma to be settled and reliable around stock, and by the time I raise him on premium large breed puppy food and make sure his parasite treatments are kept up to date, it would probably have been cheaper to build a poultry fortress within the house yard. But I like for my birds to be able to free range, and my goats are beginning to rely on the presence of their protector. He is very different to regular dogs and takes up a lot of my time, but I should be able to rely on him for at least ten years of service once he matures, and I love an organic solution to a problem. Most of all, Boo is a wonderful member of the community, with an important part to play, and we all love having him here.

 

Kids For Days…

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After last year’s cascade of disasters, I was pretty apprehensive about this year’s kidding season. But it seems that this year the wheel of fortune has swung back in our favour.

I intended to kid eight does this year, and bred the first couple before Australia Day. I was all set up to hand-raise kids from my quarantine does, expecting around half a dozen kids from that group. Sienna kidded first, big twin bucks by Toggalong FitzWilliam, and I waited and waited for the other two to kid… but they did not. Meredith had come into season repeatedly and at irregular intervals, but despite being bred about five times, including the time the buck broke the gate open and spent the night with her, she did not get in kid. Maia did not cycle at all, and I suspected that she had been bred when the buck got out, but no such luck. My first round of kidding netted me two buck kids, and a long wait before the next ones were due.

So I was left with five does to kid, three first kidders and two second kidders. Everyone in the main group cycled late this year, and a couple had to be re-bred after missing on the first cycle. Juliet was huge from about halfway through her pregnancy, and we speculated that she might give us our first set of quads, a prospect that was as exciting as it was daunting. Rosanna and Elaine were bred to Buddy, the buck whose kids all died last year. Katie was bred to Tazzy, whose fertility could reasonably be suspected to be waning now that he is eight years old. It took three cycles to get her in kid, on the last cycle she was bred four times over two days, but it worked.

I am very lucky to have a flexible and understanding workplace, as most of those five does kidded at times when I should have been at work. I went out on a Tuesday morning the day before Juliet was due to kid and found her in labour. She looked like she had been at it for a little while, so I kept a close eye on her and set a time limit for her to start birthing kids before I went in to investigate. That time came and went, with Juliet sat on the floor looking quite worn-out, so I soaped up and put my hand in to investigate.

There was a kid clearly quite close to being born, but I couldn’t feel any feet. I thought I had a face but it didn’t feel right, and there was a weird floppy thing coming out first. After a few moments I realised that what I was feeling was a tail, and the kid was trying to come out literally bum first. I had to push it back in to find the hind legs and pull it out. Juliet was still lying down, which helped, and there was plenty of space to manipulate the kid. I went in again, found another pair of legs and pulled out another kid, placing it next to the first on the straw. These were not especially small kids. I reached in again and pulled out another, hoping to have the all the kids out before the first ones started making too much noise and prompted the doe to get up to investigate. Juliet lay there patiently while I reached in again and found a fourth kid. Two legs in my hand and out she came, a bit smaller than the others but otherwise fine. I felt around for any more just in case, but four was it. I got up and stood out of the way while Juliet hoisted her significantly-reduced self up out of the straw and set to work cleaning her four absolutely perfect kids.

I managed to get them all to have a feed before I headed into work for the afternoon. I weighed them first and they ranged from 2.8kg to 3.5kg, adding up to over 12kg of kids between them and beating Sienna’s record of 10.5kg of kids (triplets) in a single kidding. Juliet’s kids are now a month old, and while my plan was to remove the two buck kids and let her raise the does, she insisted on feeding all four and refuses to let her milk down for either myself of the machine. I offer her kids a bottle twice a day, and Juliet was tested last week and found to be producing around 5lt of milk per day.

Rosanna kidded the next night, and since I was concerned that she might have deformed kids I waited until she was ready and then went in after the kids. I found a huge pair of front hooves, and it seemed impossible that the kid attached to them could possibly come out of that little two-year-old doe. It took an awful lot of pulling to get that kid out and I was surprised and very relieved to find a great, strong, and otherwise perfectly normal buck kid. A doe kid followed and I was elated. A pair of perfect healthy kids by my lovely young buck Anara Eclipse. They were up and feeding from their cheerful little first time mother without help by morning and have gone from strength to strength.

Ten days later it was Elaine’s turn. After kidding as a goatling and then having a year off, she had got way too fat and had suffered from laminitis earlier in her pregnancy. I had to keep her penned with only hay for several weeks while I worked on her feet which had started to get deformed. She didn’t develop an udder until the day before she kidded, and I was not certain that she was in kid at all until the last couple of days. She had a nice, medium-sized single doe kid, meaning that all three of Buddy’s kids this year are normal and healthy.

After a couple of weeks it was Delilah’s turn. Being school holidays I left the rest of the family to keep an eye on her and went to work. Around 1pm I was summoned home as the first kid was presenting with only one foot forward and Matt’s hands were too big to be able to offer much assistance. I drove home envisaging a bad malpresentation with a small doe, reminiscent of Elise’s vet-assisted arrival last year, but found a fairly easy fix with the second foot tucked under the kid’s chin. It was a big kid though, and she was meconium-stained and more than ready to come out. Another fairly big kid followed, and when I checked for any more all I could feel was a handful of placentas. The kids were a good size and Delilah looked sufficiently deflated, so I helped the kids get a feed and stood by as the doe lay down presumably to pass the afterbirth.

And out came another kid. Smaller, and looking like she’d been dragged from a stagnant swamp. She was floppy and I had to give her a bit of a rev-up to get her breathing reliably. I parked her in front of the doe, who was happy enough to clean her up while the other two kids lurched around the pen trying to find their feet. The third little doe had no suck reflex and could not stand, so once I was sure she was warm enough I stomach tubed her with some colostrum and left her under the heat lamp.

I tube fed the little doe again before I went to bed, and checked her at 3am after the Barncam revealed that she had wriggled out from under the heat lamp. I expected to find her dead in the morning, but she was able to stand with help and I got her to feed straight from the doe. She gained her strength that day, but did not take up feeding on her own and cuddling up with her mother like the other two kids did. The next morning it was evident that her mother did not want to raise her, and since two kids are plenty for a maiden doe, I took the tiny kid and moved her to a neighbouring pen to hand raise. She has made plenty of progress in the last few days, and is feeding well from a bottle and bopping about like a normal kid.

That left Katie, who was showing signs of kidding on Friday morning. I opted to work from home rather than risk having to make a mad dash from the office later in the day, so predictably she waited all day and kidded at around 5pm when I would have already got home from the office had I gone in. She had a nice pair of twins without any assistance, and apart from needing a bit of coaching to feed them she is doing very well with them.

So at this stage we have fourteen healthy kids – seven does and seven bucks – from six healthy does. And we have plenty of milk for everyone.

So to sum up, we have six kids by Tazzy, my supposedly sub-fertile buck they are:

Chris, Alf, Sophia and Odessa, from Elcarim Juliet, and

Trinity and Neo, from Elcarim Gloria (aka Katie).

By Toggalong FitzWilliam we have five kids:

Romulus and Remus, from Elcarim Sienna, and

Florence, Mac and Devika from Elcarim Delilah.

And finally, by Anara Eclipse we have:

Luna and Cosmo, from Elcarim Rosanna, and

Celeste, from Elcarim Elaine.

We’ll register seven doe kids, including Florence who has already been sold and will go to her new home when she is weaned. Cosmo was sold as a buck, but when we discovered that he has a hernia I wethered him, and he will stay on as a pet. The other six buck kids either have been or will be wethered and also have homes to go to.

Gardening in Winter

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The Permaculture Design Course ended just in time for the Ballarat winter to put an end to much in the way of gardening. What is still growing grows slowly. I got a few leafy plants in the ground that are growing at around the same rate that the slugs and birds are eating them and will hopefully take off once the ground heats up. But for the most part I have just been putting sticks in the ground and hoping they start doing something come the spring.

I bought a hazlenut duo and some apple trees in the family’s favourite varieties (which also happen to be pollinators, luckily) and planted these in the food forest. Being bare rooted they look a lot like sticks. We impulse bought a mulberry tree as well, which has gone on the southern side of the main food garden, alongside the two plum trees we put in two winters ago and the apricot tree that I relocated from the old orchard where it wasn’t very happy.

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Hazelnut duo, Ennis and Cassia

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Close up on the hazelnut.

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Apple trees – we got Fuji, Pink Lady and Red Delicious.

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Apple tree.

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Mulberry tree, also looks like a stick at the moment.

I also have big plans for these sticks, planted in terra cotta pots on the Eastern verandah. They will grow to be leafy grapevines in three different colours and shade the house from the morning sun in summer. I haven’t put the climbing frames up for them yet, but I think I’ve got a bit of time before I need to do that.

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Look at my stick! Look at it!

And possibly the most ambitious stick of all is this tiny twig which claims to be the beginning of a black Walnut tree. The silver birches in the central driveway garden have died and I want a feature tree to take over from them. The walnut will have the added advantage of suppressing grass growth under it and eventually it will bear walnuts, which I love.

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Where’s the walnut tree?

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There it is!

Fortunately for me, being an impatient gardener who wants to watch things growing NOW, I have my little greenhouse which is producing some rather slow lettuce and some beetroot for my next round of beetroot relish.

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Lettuce in the front, beetroot in the back.

I also have the warmhouse which is slightly more gratifying, although still only requiring a weekly visit for watering. The fish and water plants are doing well, and the basil mint looks like it could get comfortable in here.

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Super stylish fishpond, clearly used to live at number 5.

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Basil mint – is it basil? Is it mint? It’s healthy appearance at this time of year suggests that it is definitely not really basil.

The fish pond and blue tubs filled with water create a thermal mass that hold warmth and helps keep the temperature above zero during the freezing nights we have been having. It gets quite warm in the warmhouse during the day, pushing 20* on sunny days even when it is well below 10* outside.

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Three dollars at Bunnings. Super useful for learning about the temperature ranges in your growing structures.

I’ve popped a little Washington Navel in here, along with the avocados who look like they could do with a holiday in Queensland but are hanging in there. A friend has entrusted her potted orange tree known as ‘Grandad’ to me. Grandad had lived on the south side of a house in Geelong and seems to be pretty tough. He will hopefully do well in the warmhouse.

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The tea plants in here are surviving and even putting out a few new shoots. The wormwood cuttings have all struck and are turning into actual plants. They will be planted in the farmyard in a protected spot and also in the new chicken yard when it is built.

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The wormwood cuttings worked! Hooray for making new plants from old.

Winter gardening is kind of slow paced, but I’ve got heaps of ideas and plans for spring. My order of seeds and seedling pots has arrived from Diggers, and I’ll be getting a new bigger greenhouse for my birthday where I can grow all my tomatoes and capsicums and maybe even some basil. I’ve got plans for a herb bed along the side of the new greenhouse as well. I’ve never been one for growing flowers, but I’ll be experimenting with those this year to define the edges of the circular gardens and fill in the gaps that the grass currently likes to take over. And hopefully some of the herby and shrubby plants in the food forest will begin to thrive between the trees and start to out-compete the grasses in there too.

A few of the bulbs are starting to form flowers, including the ones we planted on Ripley’s grave, so soon we’ll start to see a little bit of colour in the garden again. Then the wattles will bloom, the nuts and stonefruit will blossom, the deciduous trees will start to turn green again, and next thing we know it will be spring. Then I’ll really have my work cut out for me.

I can’t wait.

Permaculture Design Course

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It’s time for me to write about my PDC experience.

I’ve been putting it off for a while, mostly due to the fact that for a number of reasons that are complex and fairly personal I did not actually finish the course. I attended all but the last three weekends, and while my inability to complete the course still weighs heavily on me, I made my decision and there’s no going back now.

A classmate just published a blog post that included her experience of the course, and I have to say that mine was very different.

My motivations for enrolling were probably different. I had dabbled in reading permaculture publications, done the introduction to permaculture weekend, and attended several workshops on various topics. Circumstances had prevented me from doing the PDC as it had been offered in previous formats, from two-week intensive courses to every Friday for two terms. So when the course was offered as one weekend every three or four weeks, and nearly all of those weekends we ones when my children were not at home, it was the perfect opportunity.

Like everything I do, I bellyached for a while before paying the deposit. How would I cope with the time commitment required and the early starts on weekends? How would I cope with the social aspect of spending entire weekends with strangers?

In the end it was my desire to learn that got me over the line. I’ve been growing food for a few years now, in a very hit and miss fashion, and I wanted to learn how to be more efficient and more effective at it. The idea of a set of principles and design methods that could be applied to life in general, leading to a more sustainable way of living, appealed to me greatly.

So I steeled myself and embarked on the journey. And there was so much to learn! Not just with regard to gardening, but also things like patterns and land usage and living spaces and community. I made pages of notes at each session, including lists of things I wanted to implement at home.

I also found myself getting involved in discussions about topics like food miles and parenting and sexism and body image. After a while, I found a confidence in speaking to my classmates that came from a knowledge that this was a group of people with respect for diverse opinions and who were all a little bit radical in their own way.

They say that doing a PDC changes your life. And for a little while, in a lot of ways, it did. Knowing that I had a lot to get through, that I was going to be super busy for several months, I was very proactive and organised. I made sure I went to bed early and got plenty of sleep. I drank lots of water. I made sure to eat well and keep the pantry and fridge well stocked with easy dinners for times when I had no motivation for cooking.

There were times when I got overwhelmed. Mornings when I found it hard to get moving, through tiredness or anxiety, and desperately wanted to just stay home. Knowing that one of my classmates relied on me for transport was what got me up and moving on a lot of weekends. And every time I got to class I was rewarded with a welcoming group and plenty of interesting content.

I learned a lot about my own property by visiting others and applying what we were taught. I came to recognise the genius of the previous owner of my place in how he set up the drainage system around the house and in the paddocks. I realised the value of the concrete slab under my wood heater and the large solid wall behind it as thermal mass. I even discovered an olive tree that has been only a few metres away from my house the whole time I have lived here and never noticed before. I began to see a wealth of opportunities that exist within my own back yard.

And as soon as I could I began implementing my ideas. I bought a worm farm and stocked it with worms. I started planting flowers to attract bees and other beneficial insects to my garden. I had a go at implementing a grey water system before realising how very, very flat the area around the house is, meaning that there is no scope for runoff from the laundry or bathrooms.

I got the confidence to do things like buy avocado plants and attempt to fertilise the blueberry bushes that have sat in suspended animation behind the greenhouse for nearly two years. I learned that the Washington Navel is one of the best orange varieties to grow around Ballarat. I bought an awful lot of plants. I began creating a food forest based in the dappled shade of a big honey locust next to my vegie patch. I created new wormwood plants from cuttings that I will put in the new poultry enclosure in the spring.

My garden is currently full of a lot of bare sticks poking out of the ground, but even these are exciting in their own way. Things like hazelnuts, three varieties of apple, a mulberry tree, a strategically placed black walnut, and a series of grapes along the eastern verandah. I have a box full of flower and vegetable seeds, a new greenhouse on its way for my birthday that will house my tomatoes and capsicums, and plans for a herb garden.

As well as embracing plants like borage, comfrey and tagasaste, I’ve taken a look at the environmental impact of my household. We’ve switched to a greener power company, with the intention of learning about and reducing our usage before we have our solar power system installed shortly. After Joel Meadows’ teachings about fire, I am getting much more warmth and efficiency out of our wood fire and looking to make it our main source of winter heating for the future.

I feel like I am treading water a little during these cold months with little growth, but I’ve got crops of garlic and onions in, as well as beetroot and lettuce in the small greenhouse. I am itching for the spring, when I can get back into the garden with gusto and start to make some real change and hopefully produce some real results.

My hope is that now I know a little, I can look to learn more. While I had no intentions of becoming a permaculture designer, learning the principles and applying them has implications for the future of everything I do on my property and beyond.

Even just flicking through my course notes, I am reminded of so much of the information that I had already forgotten, that I hope to return to when the weather warms up. In the mean time I can read and plan as I sit by my roaring wood fire which is drying the laundry as it warms the house.

Maybe I will even find it within me to push my social boundaries and attend some permaculture-related short courses or other events in the future.