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.

 

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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.

Staring Down the Barrel

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Sienna, Maia and Meredith, expanding rapidly.

Three weeks until the first does are due to kid.

I haven’t had does due this early before. It feels like it is still Autumn, with a whole winter to get through before Spring returns. Spring didn’t really start until November last year, when the rain finally stopped after a miserable two and a half months, so based on that, we have a long, cold, wet half a year ahead of us.

And kids due in three weeks. The first to kid will be the older does in the quarantine paddock. Sienna was bred on consecutive days before Australia day and didn’t come back into season. Meredith seemed to miss on the first cycle and was bred three weeks later, but she showed heat on and off for a couple of months so could be due any time. She is the size of a house, though, so no doubt about her.

Maia seemed to be doing nothing for a very long time, but recently it became apparent that she is already in kid. The only time this could have happened would have been when the bucks first came in rut and Fitz broke the gate latch and got in with the does. Making Maia due a day or two after Sienna.

Sienna and Meredith will both be 7yo this year, and it is my intention that this be their last lactation. They are both residents of the quarantine paddock, so their kids will be hand raised as a biosecurity measure to give them the best chance of not contracting cheesy gland. The plan is to milk them both for a full 365 days and get the highest herd recording result possible for them, as well as a Q* 24 hour production award for Sienna, who has proved her ability to get the butterfat and volume required during previous lactations. Maia is only a fairly young doe, who lacks the production capacity of the other two but has a really nice udder. She had really lovely twins last year, but the doe was lost to joint ill, so another daughter from her would be wonderful.

There are still a few things to do before kidding. The gutters have been installed on the shed, which should solve the problem of water running off the roof and coming in under the back wall during wet weather. The feed area has been cleared out and will be used for raising kids. I’ll need to get a lamb bar or similar for feeding multiple kids.

I’m in the process of acquiring a milking machine. With two high-volume does to milk, and a history of carpal tunnel issues, I’ve had to admit that hand milking more than one or two does is more than I can cope with. I’ve found the make and model I want, now it’s just a matter of having it delivered and figuring out how to work it.

After last year, I am pretty apprehensive about facing another kidding season. After the three older girls kid I’ll get a bit of a break before the other five younger does are due, spread over September and October. Hand raising kids is a lot of work, and very time consuming, even when everything goes well.

For me kidding season is about late nights and early mornings. It’s about the moment when you realise that even if the doe kids right now and with no problems you are still going to be up most of the night. It is huddling under the heat lamp, staring at a glassy-eyed goat who could give birth at literally any moment yet manages to hang on for hours. It is the accumulation of straw on the carpet due to all the washing that has to be dried in front of the fire, and all the straw your clothes pick up from the pens while you are on your knees trying to get frustrating newborns to feed. It is dry, cracked hands, the smell of amniotic fluid and colostrum on the cuffs of your coat, and endless trips back and forth to the shed in the dark.

It’s the feeling of relief when all the kids are out, even if they haven’t all made it. It’s the difficult decision of when to wait and watch and when to help a doe to deliver.

I don’t know how many kids we will get this season. Between none and 24 is the reality of it. Somewhere around 16 is likely if things go well. Inevitably we will lose some, but all I can do is hope that the 50% losses we experienced last year were a one-off.

For now I will enjoy the good nights of sleep and the relatively quick morning and evening routines milking just one doe. The calm before the storm. But before long I’ll be under pressure to get up at 6am, fit in feeding kids three times a day and go to bed early. I’ll be working out how to fit in evening milking with footy training. Checking the online camera every hour when there are does in the kidding pen.

There is no going back now. This will happen, soon.

Making Progress in the Garden

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I’ve got three weekends left of the Permaculture Design Certificate course being run by Ballarat Permaculture Guild. I have learned so much, and having found some time lately I have been rediscovering my garden and coming up with ideas to make it more productive. Not only has my motivation to make changes and investments in time and money around the yard increased, I’ve gained a better understanding of why to do some things as well as how.

One idea I had was to put some fish and plants in the water trough in the farmyard. After researching plants that would not harm any of the animals, I set up some refuges for the fish and left it to see what would happen. It was going pretty well for a while, although one of the goats developed a taste for water ribbons. After a few weeks, though, a couple of the ducks discovered that the trough had edible plants in it, as well as being a nice place to have a wash. So the plants and fish had to find a new home, so that the trough could be cleaned out and hopefully not continue to attract ducks.

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The fish tub. I expect frogs will move in too.

I had been intending to add a water container to the large greenhouse, know referred to as the warmhouse, so having to move the fish and water plants forced this idea to come to life. But first I had to remove all the freeloading tomatoes.

After last year’s successful tomato yield I had big plans for the tomato crop this year. I collected passata jars with the goal of filling all of them with home made passata and bottled tomatoes, enough to get us through the year until the next tomato season. Last year’s bottled tomatoes lasted us six months. So, armed with seeds from the varieties that had yielded best, I managed to start some tomato plants from seed for the first time ever.

This early success looked like it was going to bear fruit. Once the plants were moved to the large greenhouse they grew and grew, before long they were taller than me. They looked great. But the season was not kind. I harvested maybe 5kg of tomatoes this year, a big drop from last year when I was bringing in buckets full of tomatoes every few days.

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Looks like I’ll be making green tomato relish…

So what went wrong? I had the right varieties, the right growing conditions and plenty of water. I think the issues were a combination of too many plants, not enough support and too much watering. The plants grew so thickly that the lower parts got no light, and the wet earth led to mould, fungus and rotten fruit. The huge plants fell over with insufficient support, leaving fruit sitting on wet ground and rotting leaves. Then I noticed something had been eating the fruit. I didn’t think it was birds, but it wasn’t until I found the entry hole that I realised the problem was rodents. Having the bottom half chewed out of what would have been a 500g tomato was very disappointing. Lots of the bigger fruit was damaged.

For next year we should have a new sturdy greenhouse for the tomatoes, like the small greenhouse but with more floor space. This time I will not get greedy and plant too many plants. I will stick with the Oxheart tomatoes, which ripen early, have more flesh and less seeds, and due their large size are easy to peel.

I was looking for a place to site the new greenhouse, when I stumbled across a large raised garden bed that had lost a lot of its larger plants. These had presumably died in last summer’s big dry. This bed features a big Honey Locust tree on the eastern end, a tree often used to base a plant guild around due to it’s deep root system and ability to bring nutrients up from deep in the soil and make them available for more shallow-rooted plants. I had found the perfect place to start a food forest.

I had a dream a couple of months ago that I had found an area of my garden that I had never been in before, and it was full of food plants including trees that grew pineapples. To then stumble across this garden bed that had been right in my face for the last two and a bit years and see it in a completely different light was surreal. Not only that, but this garden bed has an olive tree still living that is visible from the house, that I have walked past hundreds of times, but never seen until now.

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Definitely an olive tree – even has an olive!

So far my food forest contains it’s feature Honey Locust, an olive tree and a few nectarine seeds that I have popped in the ground. I have also added a feijoa to help get things started. Next I’ll need some smaller shrubs and groundcovers to complete the plant guild. I’ve started some comfrey seeds, so with a bit of luck these will sprout and I can add them too.

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The epic Honey Locust, perfect mainstay for a plant guild

food forest

It doesn’t look like much, but I’m going to reclaim this big raised area for growing food.

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Beginning with this little feijoa tree.

In the latest Diggers Club order, with the feijoa, I bought a couple of tea plants. I’ve started growing and collecting a few tea additives, like peppermint, chamomile and rosehips, so adding the base tea to my garden seemed like the next step. Upon reading that the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, likes similar conditions to blueberries, I decided to plant them in the blueberry patch. I’ve been afraid to do anything to the blueberries, which have been in for nearly two years, as they represent my fourth attempt at growing blueberries and I am afraid of doing something that will kill them. But in planting the tea plants I had to take a deep breath and apply some manure and mulch. Fingers crossed!

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Tea and blueberries, with a couple of rogue Sweetie tomatoes, behind the small greenhouse.

I wasn’t able to get avocado trees from Diggers because I hesitated and they sold out. I was fortunate that a local nursery had some Hass avocado trees in stock, which were reportedly a lot more advanced than the ones available by mail order from Diggers. Avocados are something else I have wanted to try growing for ages, but had put off due to being afraid of killing a fairly expensive tree. Turning over the large greenhouse to become a warmhouse presented a good opportunity to get some avocado trees going in a sheltered environment, so I took the plunge. Again, fingers crossed!

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Avocados in the ‘warmhouse’. I hope to add a few more plants that will appreciate the frost-free zone.

Something else I am trying that I have never done before is striking cuttings. I want to plant some wormwood in the chook pen, and we have heaps of mature plants in the yard, so I’m attempting to grow some new plants from cuttings.

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The potting table, with wormwood cuttings.

My renewed enthusiasm for growing things and my confidence to try something new when it comes to gardening are a direct result of what I have learned in the PDC. There is so much more to growing things that putting plants in the ground and watering them. Soil health is a huge thing, as well as keeping the soil covered with plants to prevent weeds from inviting themselves. Another thing I have learned is to worry more about what the garden is doing than how it looks.

The growing season is slowing down, the garlic is in the ground, the pumpkin vines are dying off, some plants have packed it in for the winter and others are settling into their spots in the greenhouses. I’ve got a few jars of pickles and relish in the cupboard, and I am hopeful that a few more figs will ripen before time runs out and winter hits. Then we get a couple of months of relative peace before kidding begins and all my outside time is dedicated to goats again.

figtree

Yay! Figs!

It will be interesting to see how my efforts manifest when spring comes back and the growing season starts again. But I feel like production is definitely set to increase.

 

What’s The Alternative?

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There are so many products on the market for making people feel clean and smell nice. Most of them are overcomplicated, overpriced and kind of superfluous. But making the switch to more natural and simpler bath and body products can be a bit of a minefield.

Even for those of us who don’t get into perfumes and cosmetics, or who know better than to use a shower gel or antibacterial soap, it can be hard to know where to start or which alternatives actually work. Luckily for you I have tried a few. So here are my experiences, the products I use or buy and why, and a few examples of things that didn’t work for me.

In the Laundry

For years I found that regular washing powder made me itch. Growing up we had whatever was cheapest to wash our clothes in, which was usually some kind of concentrated powder. We never had fabric softener, and to this day the smell of fabric softener is so foreign to me that I can recognise it on a person from metres away.

After becoming the mother of a child with sensitive skin, I started looking for alternatives. We tried Lux soap flakes, which helped but were a pain to use because they had to be dissolved in hot water before use and can create a build-up of soap in your washing machine. I eventually settled on ionic laundry balls, which change the pH of the water in a similar way to which soap does. I have now been using laundry balls for something like ten years.

laundry ball

You don’t get whiter whites and brighter colours, but you get clean clothes. I use a stain remover for grease stains that don’t shift on the first wash. For extra dirty things I dissolve home-made soap shavings in water and let it sit for a couple of days until it forms a sort of gel, then add this to the wash.

Between this sort of washing and hanging wet clothes out to dry in the sun you get clothes that remain fresh for years even if worn very often.

In the Shower

As you will already know, I make my own soap and use this in place of shampoo as well. It is not uncommon for us to have up to ten different soaps in use around the house, between all the hand-washing stations and the showers.

Recent studies have shown that antibacterial detergents and hand-washing products (I won’t call them soap because they are far from it) can cause skin problems and leave us susceptible to infection as they kill the microbes in our skin. The skin microbiome is a relatively new discovery, and is considered to be as important to our health as the gut microbiome. Antibacterial products kill protective microbes and there is currently a push to discourage people from using them on their skin.

Real soap, made using the natural process of saponification rather than slapping together some sudsy chemical by-products, does not kill off your beneficial skin microbes. Real soap is slippery by nature of its alkalinity, and this causes germs and bacteria to be rinsed off or rubbed off when you dry your skin after using soap. Alkaline substances will cause your skin to become dry, which is why soap is made with a lelve of what is called a ‘superfat’. Superfatting soap ensures that even after the sodium hydroxide used to create the chemical reaction with the oils is all consumed, there is enough oil left in the soap to moisturise the skin. This is where skin-loving oils like olive oil, avocado oil and cocoa butter produce a soap that moisturises as it cleans. Natural ingredients like honey, tea, milk and oatmeal, as well as clays, botanicals and essential oils, can be added to real soap for extra healing, soothing and nourishing of the skin while you wash.

I’ve had people complain to me that they use body washes and hand washing detergents because they don’t like the slippery feeling that soap leaves. But this slippery feeling is what lets you know that you are getting clean without losing all your natural skin flora and moisture.

So now that you know a bit about real soap, you can understand why we use it so extensively. For hand washing, body washing and hair washing, even sometimes laundry use. You can use pretty much any soap to wash your hair, but things like avocado oil might leave it a bit greasy. We mostly use plain soap for hair washing, but the varieties with Rhassoul clay are a nice alternative.

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Here is the shelf in my shower. It generally contains a hair soap as well as whatever varieties Matt and myself have in use at the time. Also note the apple cider vinegar. Those of us with longer hair use this to reduce tangles. It removes some of the fat from your hair and neutralises the alkalinity of the soap. And once it is dry I guarantee that you don’t smell like old apples.

I have tried bicarb and vinegar for hair washing, as well as just rinsing, but using soap works for me. And the rest of the family have adopted it as well. I have a few people who buy my soap specifically for washing hair, including one woman who says that it is the best thing she has ever used for washing her dreadlocks.

In the Bathroom20170407_203620

We are still using regular toothpaste, but for antiperspirant we have settled on alum stones. I tried a natural paste deodorant, which while not preventing perspiration at all did completely eliminate the subsequent odour. Unfortunately I developed a reaction to it after a couple of weeks so had to try something else.

I had been uncomfortable using commercial antiperspirants for a while. Roll-ons only really work for bare armpits, and the spray options caused an alarming stinging sensation that made me feel like my pores were shrinking away in terror. I believe that antiperspirants cause your pores to pucker up so that you don’t actually sweat, which can’t be good for you. Also, despite all the claims of offering ’48 hour protection’, not one antiperspirant I tried was able to keep me dry for much more than a few hours. Add to that my increasing distaste for the marketing around these products – I once found myself having to choose between two varieties named ‘Sexy’ and ‘Invisible’ and the irony struck a little too close to the bone.

We tried naturally formed alum stones, but these tended to erode, break and leave sharp edges. More recently I bought a stone from eBay, which you can see in the picture. It is dense and carved to a useful shape and it has been really great to use, as well as durable.

When I am at home working around the farm and garden I don’t use any form of antiperspirant or deodorant, I just sweat freely and rinse it off later. Often I can go a whole day without applying anything to my armpits and as long as I wear something well-ventilated, like a singlet, I don’t even smell at the end of the day. I think having actual armpit hair might work in my favour in this regard. Let the body do what the body does.

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Some other products I use are made by friends with goats. Both the Glenafton Goat Milk and Alpine Goatsmilk moisturisers are beautifully light and last for ages. Which one I buy basically comes down to who I see at a show when I need to stock up. I leave lotions to the experts and stick to basic soapmaking, because these producers make great quality and excellent value products. I also have arnica salves from Glenafton and Alpine that I use on my frequent bruises.

You will see also in this photo that I use a body spray. I have a bit of a paranoia about people finding me smelly, so I still use a body spray in social and work situations. Many body sprays have dodgy names and creepy themes (like ‘Temptation’, ‘Tease’ and ‘Instant Crush’…), but I found one called ‘So…?’ which sounds like an awkward silence or an expression of ambivalence, and decided that was the one for me.

Due to the way I live and present myself there are a lot of things other people buy and use that I just don’t. Things like disposable razors or make-up removal products or protection for heat-treated hair. I don’t have a complicated personal maintenance routine, I just wash with soap, condition my hair with cider vinegar, apply some goat milk moisturiser and run a comb through my hair. It’s pretty minimalist, but it saves me heaps of time and money, and I’m not unnecessarily applying chemicals to my body.