The Only Way Is Forward

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tomato

Tomatoes are late this year. But it’s still Autumn.

So it’s March. March. How did this happen?

Anyway, I am pleased to report that my resolve to not spend another year treading water and being miserable has held and I am Getting Shit Done and Making Progress as fast as our dodgy wireless NBN will let me.

Although I have been slowed down by scheduling clashes with pay day, I have begun taking art classes every second Wednesday. This has been great fun, and rewarding. I have bought some paints and I’ll soon be receiving my grandfather’s pastels (he is going back to focusing on oils), so I’ll be able to do some art at home, but in the classes I have been learning all sorts of tricks and techniques, so I’ll stick with them for a while.

I’ve stuck to my bike riding so far, going out at least four times a week and now doing a 9km circuit. Winter is going to be hard, and fitting in around all the after school stuff is already a challenge, but I hope to keep going and keep improving my fitness. I’ve recently added a weekly yoga class back into the mix, which takes away a bike riding night but definitely has its own benefits that make it worthwhile.

I’m almost half way through the Permaculture Design Course, and so far this has been a real emotional rollercoaster and massive learning experience. Permaculture is a way of life, a sound theory of all things, that aims to create efficient, sustainable ways to satisfy the needs of people, animals and the Earth. Not only have I encountered a hundred tips and ideas for things to do in my home and garden, I have also learned philosophies for a more constructive and authentic inner life and better relationships with others. As a process it has been devastating and enlightening. A restructuring of my priorities and the way I see things. Not to mention an amazing connection with people on a similar journey with similar goals. It has pushed me beyond my comfort zone and along a path that will hopefully take me to a more prominent place with my activism and allow me to do more good both at home and in the world at large.

A course like this was the logical next step in Getting Out Of The House. I have also been doing a few social things and actually looking forward to them and enjoying them. I am generally feeling more grounded, more stable, more supported and better able to cope with the swings and roundabouts of life. I’ve been eating better, sleeping better, drinking more water. As a family we are better organised, sharing the load, and somewhat more relaxed. I might go weeks on end without half an unscheduled day, but I pace myself and take care of the details and it is mostly going pretty well.

So from here I intend to make more regular posts, not random stuff like this but posts with a topic. About the garden and the goats, about the things I learn and try, and how it all fits into the permaculture principles. I have many ideas of things to experiment with, ways to make the garden more productive, ways to make more of an impact on the world around me, and ways to enrich my life and further broaden my horizons.

I’m even actually setting goals. I’ve written down a few goals for the garden and farm for the next six months and I’m in the early stages of planning a particular challenge for the rest of this year and into 2018, which I should be able to announce in a few weeks. In the meantime I am gently ramping up my social media communication and profile in the hope that I can get all of you on board in some small way to support my efforts.

I’ve had a few moments where everything looks scary and like an awful lot of work and I wonder if I really have what it takes to push through that fear and face the experience head-on. Sometimes all that keeps me going is the thought that I would never forgive myself for giving up. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed where everything is safe and familiar and there are no risks. But I know that the only way is forward. So that is where I am going.

 

SilkieDome – An Integrated Poultry and Vegetable System

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When people ask me for advice on growing vegetables, my first point is always start small and try a few different things. Preferably things you would happily eat. Then learn from your experience and expand as you go.

A vegetable garden can come out of nowhere, and the best way to learn is to experiment. I see many proud beginner gardeners with packets of seeds or punnets of seedlings planted in neat rows. Often these uniform seedlings, planted side-by-side, have completely different growing patterns. Rosemary and parsley might start out the same size when you buy them and plant them in your new herb garden, but that rosemary is going to turn into a great big shrub and drown out your parsley.

The climate requirements of different plants are not always compatible either. I always grimace when I see basil and tomato seedlings for sale in chain stores as early as August. These are started in climate-controlled greenhouses. When you plant them in your chilly Ballarat garden they are not going to last long.

Over the years you learn which plants will naturalise, which will die off in the first frost, which will just refuse to grow in certain soils and which are pretty much unkillable. Eventually you will figure out how to grow the plants you like best.

Sometimes you will stumble upon something that completely revolutionises your garden. For me, that something is SilkieDome.

I was introduced to the concept of the integrated garden and poultry system during a site visit as part of the Introduction to Permaculture weekend I attended last year. This impressive mandala garden had a pond in the middle and a series of circular garden beds around it. Atop one of these garden beds was a round poultry tractor, whose residents were cheerfully digging up the spent garden plants and fertilising the bed as they went.

So when setting up the food garden at the new house, I was determined to try this method of gardening. I had hung on to the kids’ old trampoline frame for two years with the intent of doing something useful with it. Finally it has become SilkieDome.

I considered Silkies as ideal residents for the garden. They are small, quiet and don’t need a great deal of space. And my Silkie rooster, Malcolm, has been more than happy to move away from the main farmyard where he had to compete with the big Rhode Island Red rooster, Russell Crow.

The Silkie Family

The Silkie Family

The Silkie family is made up of my white hen Quartz, Malcolm the black rooster, and three of their daughters who hatched in November.

As for the garden itself, we are on to the third bed.

The mandala garden in progress.

The mandala garden in progress.

Now, the real beauty of this system is that it encourages staggered plantings and maintaining season-suitable growth of different vegetables. When you have square, stationery beds, you tend to (or at least, I tend to) plant one block of something and that is it for the season. You grow it, you harvest it, you eat it, and that is it. But with the need to regularly move onto the next bed, you can add a late planting of a warm weather favourite, or put in some plants to harvest in Autumn.

With each move of the SilkieDome there is an opportunity to try something new, or have another go with something that has already worked.

I have plans to put a gravel path between the beds, and in the centre plant something decorative that will attract bees and other beneficial insects to the area.

Each bed is grazed out by the Silkies before I put down a load of garden mix and top it with straw from the main poultry night pen. Since I am basically starting out on what was once a driveway, the garden mix (a combination of mushroom compost, manure and topsoil) will give each bed a head start and allow the plants, and later the Silkies, to make inroads into improving the soil underneath. The thick layer of straw mulch with poultry manure keeps the moisture in the bed, at the roots of the plants where it is needed most.

I have static garden beds, as well as the dynamic ones. I plan to put an area for blueberries behind the greenhouse to take advantage of the afternoon shade. The front boundary of the garden will eventually be filled with rows of berry canes. There is a bed that I put in next to the greenhouse to get me started which will be used for self-seeders and perennials, as well as climbing peas and beans on the climbing frame.

Static bed with climbing frame.

Static bed with climbing frame.

The greenhouse has been so successful for growing tomatoes and capsicums that I don’t think I will bother trying to grow them outside in future.

Tomatoes and capsicums growing like crazy in the greenhouse.

Tomatoes and capsicums growing like crazy in the greenhouse.

It will be interesting to see how the SilkieDome project pans out, and how the winter plantings will go. Will the rotations work out well for the Silkies and the plants? Will I be able to grow anything actually edible through winter?

It is all about experimenting, trying different things, figuring out what works and growing more of what we like to eat.

Just like when I first started out.