- Just picked up our third lot of chooks/ducks. We tried it a little differently this time – free-ranged over a smaller area, kept the food up to them a bit more, kept them a week or so longer. The smallest is over 3kg and the biggest is over 4kg. They’re so big that the guy who runs the poultry processing place came out to ask me about them. And then he charged me extra. On a related note, we need to go and get a new freezer tomorrow…
- Planning a veggie patch so large that you need to use a huge rotary hoe may be ambitious. Realising that you need to use your tractor might push it to over-ambitious. Ending up having to get your farmer neighbour to use his giant tractor might push it firmly into the realms of the ridiculous. On a related note, we’re good to fence off our housing-block sized veggie patch this weekend. WooHoo!
- For the curious amongst you, yes, a chainsaw IS a precision fencing instrument.
- Linhda set fire to the compost bays. Again.
August was huge because it’s when we breathed life into The Patch! The Patch is our largest veggie area, and is a little over 300 square metres, with about 250 of that being productive and the rest being paths and compost bins etc.
It was a long process, and took most of the month, but is the backbone of our veggie self-sufficiency.
It all started with the chook poop. We had a heap delivered and may have overestimated. I basically had them deliver the biggest load they do, and it turned out to be too much by at least a factor of 2. We tried to get Sheldon (our tractor) and our disk plough through it, but it was too thick and greasy. If we had enough weight on the plough to dig in, then Sheldon would just spin his wheels. If Sheldon could pull the plough, then it was just rolling across the top.
My solution was to plan a weekend of my wheelbarrow, my sturdiest shovel, and my iPod, and move half of the chook crap someplace else. I was about 10 minutes into this less-than-awesome idea when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Farmer John had seen what I was doing, couldn’t get my attention because of the iPod part of my plan, and so had jumped the fence to get my attention. He offered his “small tractor” to help. God bless him.
What would have taken me the entire weekend was done in 20 minutes. After that, Farmer John brought in his “Little Tractor” and ripped the area for us. I repeat: God bless Farmer John.
Dad and I then spent an entire weekend fencing it. My original plan was to make a rabbit-proof fence around The Patch. Farmer John dissuaded us though, saying that there hadn’t been any rabbits in the area for years. That turned out to be ironic, but saved us some work and time.
The fence between the back yard and The Patch was your typical, run-down, barbed wire strewn monstrosity.
It bothered me, and I wanted to replace it with an electric fence. Unlike the fence we’d put around our backyard veggie patch, I wanted something lower. We went for smaller droppers and it turned out great! Being low means it brings The Patch and the back yard together.
It was a lot of work that we’d not originally planned on, but was well worth it.
When the fences were sorted, I mapped out the beds by digging paths between them. The original plan was to have half metre paths, but they ended up closer to 300mm (1 foot).
I then spent an entire day planting out the beds, including cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, celery, spinach, and silver beet. At most I got a fifth of the way through.
It’s hard to overstate just how important The Patch is to our little venture. It’s also hard to overstate just how much work went into getting it set up.
The lower electric fence for The Patch inspired us for the other two veggie patches in the backyard. We ended up repeating it for those two beds.
The lower fences are really quite attractive, and they keep the dogs out of the veggies.
At the same time, I set up a small hothouse and planted out some veggies and herbs in preparation for the warmer seasons. I planted:
- Pumpkin x 2
- Tomatoes x 3 (black Russian, roma, grosse lisse)
- Chillies (Jalapeno, Naga, Cayenne)
We also bought and planted a couple more fruit trees:
- Golden Queen Peach
- Coe’s Golden Drop Plum
August wasn’t all about veggies though. We also got our third lot of chooks done, along with a couple of home-bred ducks. This was, hands down, our largest poultry success. The smallest chook was over 3kg, while the largest were over 4kg. They were so large that the man that runs the processing facility came out to talk to me about them and ask how we did it, and then to tell me that he’d have to charge me extra because of their size. Bastard.
As important as this all was for our veggie and meat self-sufficiency, the last thing in August was equally exciting. I got a new axe!
Our rabbit has grown into rabbits. Apparently they do that. Our neighbour says that there’s been no rabbits in the area for years, and I suspect that 400 square metres of veggie patch has something to do with them now. We’ve seen one in The Patch (the largest veggie patch) once. As destructive as they can be, he really hasn’t done any noticeable damage. We’re now waiting for them to get bigger after which Farmer John says he’ll shoot them for us. I’m thinking game pie…
We also have quail! Quail are tricky, as they’re super prone to predation. Mostly running around a field makes you an easy target for things like cats. Our two cats are kept inside, and the quail have moved in to feast on the crop. I have fond memories of quails living in country fields from when I was a kid, and I was stoked to see them move in here. Well, apart from last week when one of them burst out of my pumpkin patch from under foot. That time I almost needed a change of shorts.
- Today we hire a cherry-picker to thin some of the big gums high up so we can expand our fruit orchard. Apparently normal farm work doesn’t give me enough near-miss death experiences, so today I will be 10+ metres in the air using a chainsaw…
- So somebody either hit my dog and didn’t stop or they snatched him and he jumped from their fast moving vehicle (it looks more like the later). Either way, he’s broken both ulna and radius on his right leg right through and needs about $4k worth of surgery. Two things strike me about this: 1. Bruce was running towards me when I found him. Not limping. Not trotting. He was *running* with a leg broken completely through. He ran home, took a midnight ride to the vet, was examined, had three shots, and was calm and didn’t make a single noise the entire time. What the hell is that dog made out of?! 2. There’s some bastard who lives in Wasleys who I’d like to meet.
- Bruce is home!!!! Our furry family is complete! I had the vet burn me copies of the x-rays, which I’ll post later. They are freaking awesome!
- There are a *lot* of birds in the country, and I don’t think a single one of them sleeps in. Who knew?
- We finished our first round of fruit-bearing plants today. We have a total of 54, 51 of which we’ve bought. And I don’t think we’re finished… 🙂
- Home-made stock with home-grown chooks and veggies. Then home-made risotto with home-made stock and all home-grown veggies. Give us a couple of years and the chorizo and cheese will be home-made too. The rice, on the other hand, might always be beyond us… 🙂
- We had a contractor show up today wearing glasses, where last week he was here without glasses. Linhda was convinced they were different people, proving conclusively that Clarke Kent’s disguise may actually have worked.
- Our new solar system is in and running! 24 panels and a 5kW inverter will hopefully mean we never pay another cent. The new meter doesn’t go in until the end of September, but in the meantime the old one is running backwards. 🙂
July was a big month for wood. Trust me when I say that cutting wood is much more fun at temperatures in the teens rather than temperatures in the 30s and 40s…
First of all, we dropped one of the big pines in the back paddock. It was leaning way over, and had to come down in a controlled way. It came down nicely and gave us a heap of useable wood.
In a related story, and what could be seen as poetic justice when you consider the fact that I was killing a big tree, my new chainsaw got stuck. I was cutting through the main trunk after the tree was down when one of the limbs dug in to the ground and twisted unexpectedly. I’d expected it to drop down cleanly, and the twist stuck my chainsaw fast. I had to go old school and use an axe to free the saw.
The biggest wood project was hiring a cherry picker over a weekend to thin out the orchard area. It’s a third to half an acre, which is the perfect size for what we want, but was crowded with large trees, cutting the light drastically. We’d spent a lot of time cutting out scrubby and half-dead trees, but the larger tree canopies cast shadow over most of the orchard area. The cherry picker allowed us to selectively thin the larger trees, and open up orchard area.
Using the cherry picker was interesting and often terrifying. It extended to 10 metres, and though stable it often felt anything but. The basket can theoretically hold 200 kg, but with just half of that in there (me and the equipment) it would get decidedly wobbly when doing things like starting the chainsaw. Still, it all worked out safely, was a huge day, and was incredibly productive for us.
The effort here was to create a sunny, productive orchard area. A significant benefit of this was the wood we were able to keep for both our combustion heater and our outdoor fires.
There was a poetic justice theme here also. I was very careful when dropping limbs over the fences or gate, but still managed to (slightly) bend one of our front gates and break our sign. The damage was minor, but dad was determined to document it photographically, which he then proceeded to FaceBook…
We proceeded to rearrange our wood storage, as it had quickly grown beyond our initial plans. We took all of the leafy limbs that were too small to use inside, and stacked them in the back paddock under the pine trees for use in our outside fires. The larger limbs were cut into useable rounds and stacked under the gorgeous pepper tree we have in our orchard area. In theory, the pepper tree should probably go, as it’s large and super shady. I love it though so it’s staying.
Our wood karma wasn’t done though. I broke my favourite axe in the process of committing all of this wood carnage. It was a sad day.
July wasn’t all about cutting trees though. We also spent a lot of time planting out our orchard. We’d bought most of the trees in June, and finished planting them all out in July. This included making a fence-like support for growing berries against under our newly thinned gum trees.
We ended up with 54 fruit-bearing plants, 51 of which we bought and planted. We have a heavy clay soil, and so brought in organic loam which we used to build up the area around the trees. Planting that many trees, especially when it’s not simply digging a hole, takes a while and we spread the work over a couple of weeks.
July was the first and only time the dogs have been out the front gate, the results of which was a broken Bruce. I’d left the front gate open for Linhda, again for the first time and something I’ve never done since, and then forgotten and let the dogs out the front to pee before bed. It wasn’t five minutes later that I realised, but they were already out. I found them a kilometre or so down the road. Domino and Tatyl jumped in the car, but Bruce wouldn’t come close. I figured he knew he was in trouble and so was staying back. I let him run home besides the car, and on the way home noticed he was limping. Then I realised he wasn’t using his right front let at all. Then I saw that it was actually dangling in the breeze and pissing out blood.
A midnight trip to the emergency vet room, followed by some work by an orthopaedic surgeon, resulted in a plate and 9 screws holding together his broken ulna and radius.
It also resulted in my being $4k poorer.
Towards the end of the month we found a baby bearded dragon while grubbing out some weeds. Again, July is a good time for getting out the tough weeds. The ground is moist and it’s not 40 degrees. Dad was digging out some old horehound and uncovered the dragon. He was young and skinny (the lizard, not dad), and would have been completely vulnerable if we left him. I put him in an old turtle tank I had, along with a heat pad designed for reptiles, with plans to let him out when the weather warmed up.
The last thing of note for July was the installation of our solar electricity generation system. We had 24 panels with a potential generation capability of 5 ¼ kilowatt hours put in. We predict that this will make us 100% self-sufficient for electricity, in that the sunny times will generate enough credit to pay for the not-so-sunny times. Ideally we’d have a battery system in place so that we simply stored and used our own energy. That technology needs to develop more before we use it though. And by “develop more”, I mean become cheaper, because those batteries are stupidly expensive!
- Organised coops for two lots of meat birds, fixed up some rainwater pipes, cleared trees with my awesome chainsaw, grubbed out some trunks and rotary hoed a big addition to the veggie patch, and planted 13 fruit trees involving shovelling a ton of organic loam. AND, it took 16,500 steps according to my pedometer. My reward? Pub dinner! Yes, I will work for beer.
- Our first crop is officially in the ground. Farm-freaking-tastic!
I had a trip to the US for work for half of June, so it was light on for both farm work and farm-related FB statuses… 😦
June was ALL about the fruit, veggies, and our first crop!
We planted out our crop early in the month. In reality, I think we’d normally aim to have the paddock ploughed and planted a month or so earlier. The rule-of-thumb is that you plough after the first big rain, which tends to be around Anzac Day (end of April). We were constrained by the fact that we had neither plough nor seeder, which just shows how forgiving this particular rule-of-thumb is.
We planted wheat, mostly because that’s what we could easily get from Farmer John. The estimated 2 acres took about 50 or 60kg. In reality, that’s fairly heavily sown, but I think we’ll go even heavier next time.
I got a little seeder from the John Deere dealership down the road, and the ride on towed it perfectly. It has a manual release for the seed, so something bigger like the tractor would never work.
The big lesson learned was to run the seeder up and down the ploughed furrows, and not across them. I about bounced myself off of the ride-on countless times, and it shook the poor seeder around.
We also revamped the large veggie bed out in the back garden. Most everything was ready to come up, so we harvested what was left, spent some time grubbing out the last of the stubborn trunks from the ornamentals we’d torn out, and rotary hoed it. Lastly, we dog-proofed it. Our dogs are pretty good, but three of them together tend to be bat crap crazy, and their running around had them tracking through the veggies. To get around this we put a small electric fence around the large bed.
When the painful prep was done, we planted out:
- White onions
- Brown onions
- Stump-rooted carrots
- Purple carrots
- Two kinds of radish
- Pak Choy
- Broad beans
- Dwarf beans
We bought all of our fruit trees in June, though some were bought near the end and not planted out until July. We got them in three lots, mainly because we visited three different nurseries and kept finding trees we’d not seen elsewhere. We ended up with:
- Sunburst Cherry
- Stella Cherry
- Gala Apple
- Pink Lady Apple
- Granny Smith Apple
- Williams Pear
- Goldmine Nectarine
- Alberta Peach
- Anzac Peach
- Glengarry Apricot
- Moorpark Apricot
- Bay Tree
- Captivator Gooseberry
- Verdale Olive
- Manzanillo Olive
- Ruby Blood Plum
- 20th Century Nashi
- Santa Rosa Plum
- Satsuma Plum
- Lemon Bergamont Pear
- Chinese Crabapple
- Californian Papershell Almond
- Blood Orange
- Indian Guava
- Strawberry Guava
- Haywood Kiwi (male and female)
- Brigitta Blueberry
- Jostaberry (Blackcurrant x Gooseberry)
- Autumn fruiting Raspberry
- Summer fruiting Raspberry
- Fuji Apple
I prefer to plant fruit trees at this time of year. You get them bare-rooted and they’re pretty much dormant. There’s less shock when you transplant them, and they have a good couple of seasons to establish before the really hot weather. They tend to be cheaper too.
We had our normal weekend fill-in project of tree trimming, which included removing some scrubby, half-dead gums. It was a little bigger this month, as a couple were up on a higher area where the retaining wall had been built from non-treated timber. It was well built, but the wrong materials meant it was rotten and full of white ants. We ended up pulling some of it down on accident when we were pulling some trees out, and so then we pulled some more of it down on purpose. We plan on knocking the corner off the bank and making a more gentle slope that really doesn’t need to be retained.
Lastly, we took our last two lambs and some chickens to “the other farm”. These were lambs 3 and 4, and we were old hands at it now. We did change out the cuts of meat we were getting a little, just to find what best suited us. It took 4 lambs and 2 goats before we really got that right.
The chickens were interesting. We’d free-ranged them over our orchard area, which means they got a ton of exercise. There was a heap of green feed, as you’d expect for that time of year, so I’d not supplemented their feed as much. The result was big birds, which were super tasty but a little tough. I think a combination of too much exercise and a lean diet made them tough. This was an awesome learning experience for us, as it allowed us to fine tune how we keep the birds.
- Okay, so today counts as a near-miss farm accident. Two stitches and some glue certainly aren’t a fully fledged farm accident. And on a related note, I am 100% positive that I’ll be stitching myself next time. Seriously, how hard is it?!
- The Roseworthy Hotel out did itself again! Seriously, country pub meals are the best!!!!! Oh, and they have beer.
- It is such a gorgeous Autumn day that I decided to wear shorts this afternoon… Okay, it was mostly so I could gross people out with the big, semi-healed wound on my leg. It is a nice day though.
- Touch chilli. Touch eyelids. In pain. Apparently some people never learn.
- A sure sign that you’re missing home and maybe talking about it too much: My instructor forgot my last name today and called me “Neil Farmer”.
- The solution to a work day full of frustration and disappointment? Chop wood! Seriously, hitting shit with an axe is hands-down the best therapy in the world. I might open my own clinic…
May brought us some problems, with poultry, plumbing, and ploughing mostly. It was really a month for lessons… and for some other stuff that doesn’t start with ‘P’.
The ducklings were getting bigger and following their mums around like little fat kids. We’d been having problems with Tatyl obsessing over the poultry, but I was confident that I’d broken her of it through being attentive and scolding her. However, Linhda came home one day to find that the dogs (aka Tatyl) had broken into the poultry run and there was a dead duckling in the wading pool. We can’t say for sure that a dog (aka Tatyl) killed it, but I’m guessing that one (yes, Tatyl) did.
I don’t want to seem like I’m being mean to Tatyl, but I’m convinced it was her. Back when we had the first lot of meat chooks and were setting up the infrastructure for them, we had two days in a row where Bruce and Domino were accidentally left alone with 23 month-old birds. The first day the temporary fence had come down, and the second day Bruce had let himself into their yard. Both times the big dogs and the birds had spent the day together without grief. That changed with Tatyl.
Still, Tatyl is part of the family, so we tried our best to teach her. More watching her like a hawk and scolding led to two dead baby meat chooks a week or so later. She either dragged them through the fence or got over into their area and grabbed them.
Yes, more watching and scolding. She still can’t be fully trusted, but we’ve now had all three dogs out with free-ranged poultry, and Tatyl is at least good enough to not try and kill anything while we’re around.
We also had our first gimpy meat chook. The breed we buy are Cobbs, and from what I can tell many true poultry enthusiasts avoid them. They’ve (the chooks, not the poultry enthusiasts) been selectively bred to mature quickly, be quite large, and to never feel full. Basically, they’re machines and have been bred to go from egg to slaughter weight in as little as 6 weeks.
We free-range ours, control their feed, make sure they get green feed, and leave them for 12 to 14 weeks. That leaves us with giant, happy, healthy chooks, which we love. However, the problem that some poultry people have is that Cobbs can pull up gimpy. They grow so fast that they’re bodies can’t always keep up, and we’ve had a couple with leg/feet problems. May was the first time we had that, and Linhda ended up finding it dead when I was away for work. This was an important learning experience for us, as we now know to look for it. It’s also prompted us to want to breed our own meat chooks, and maybe try one of the heirloom, slower-growing breeds. That’s a project for further down the track though…
May 2nd was Peyton’s 18th birthday, and we planned a bonfire for her. We’d been piling up all of the crap we couldn’t use from the garden redesigns and tree trimming etc. The pile ended up being quite impressively tall, but I didn’t think it would burn that well. It was damp and much of the material on the pile was green. I expected it to smoulder, and maybe take the entire night to burn.
The pile ended up going up like a roman candle. It caught right away and burned incredibly fiercely. It was completely contained, and we had hoses and our fire-fighting pump on hand, but it was still nearly scary in its intensity. It got to the stage where tourists stopped on the side of the road to watch it.
On the plus side, that big pile of trash became some nice pot ash for my veggie patch… 🙂
We’d noted some water in the chook run and thought it was rain run-off from the roof of the coop. Some investigation showed that it was actually a split pipe within the foundations of the big shed. The foundation is really quite high back there (the block slopes down that way), it had cracked and split the PVC pipe in the process.
There was no way we could get into the foundation to fix the crack, and so had to get inventive. The isolation valve for the shed was buried in the chook run, which was a ridiculous design, so we decided to fix this all at once.
First of all, we had to find where the pipe ran from the front of the house, under the front of the shed, and then out the back where it was split. It took me FOREVER to isolate the pipe, as it ended up being buried about 2 ½ feet deep. I ended up finding it with my 5 foot crow bar, which unsurprisingly did bad things to the pipe, and resulted in a quick trip to the hardware store.
We ended up putting a tap in where I split the pipe, teeing into the circuit near the front of the shed, and then blanking it off towards the leak. We can now isolate the shed quickly and easily.
We picked up a plough for Sheldon, our tractor, in May. It’s an offset disc plough and works a treat! Well, it did once we figured out how to make it work…
At first the plough wouldn’t break the ground. Seriously, it just rolled over the top. We worked out that it needed some weight to dig in. Luckily, our semi-retired farmer neighbour knew what to do, and lent us some old garage door weights. They’re cylindrical and probably weight 100kg each.
The first problem we found was that Sheldon struggled pulling the plough with all of those weights. Some trial-and-error showed us that two was the perfect number – Sheldon could do the job, and the plough dug in.
STUFF THAT DOESN’T START WITH ‘P’
We also lucked out this month with three trailer-loads of free pea straw. It was a year or three old, and Farmer John was going to drag it into a paddock and burn it just to get rid of it. I told him I’d take it off his hands for the veggie patch. We ended up making some compost bays with it, and whatever else we could save from the free-ranging egg chooks was used as mulch.
In March we’d discovered how painful the goats could be with the sheep panel in the fences. They’d stick their head through and end up getting stuck. In May we worked out the perfect solution:
This is living proof that duct tape is one of the best inventions EVER!
Two other things of note happened in May, and they’re related. First of all, we got ourselves a new chainsaw. We had learned that non-genuine machinery often isn’t worth it, and so went the real deal. We got a Stihl MS311 Farm Boss with a 20 inch bar. This is a little shorter than what I was used to, but the expert at the store recommended it this way. He said that the shorter bar meant a shorter chain, which actually meant it turned faster and worked better. Ironically, that’s what led to the other thing of note…
I’d used the chainsaw for an hour or so, and it really was beautiful. I have a thing for axes and chainsaws, and this one is just lovely to use. The problem was the faster revolution speed, coupled with the fact that familiarity really does breed contempt.
I was cutting some smaller branches, maybe 2 or 3 inches in diameter. There was only a short length of one of them left, and rather than step on it or secure it, I tried to use the guard on the base of the saw to catch it. I’d done that hundreds of times on my larger, slower saw, but didn’t allow for the speed of the new one. The result was a couple of feet of hard wood bouncing off my right shin at a fair rate of knots.
It split my shin across the bone, and was nice and deep. I cleaned it up as best I could, and dad and Linhda made me go to the hospital. It took all of two stitches and some glue to fix it up, but I made sure from the doctor that I’d be able to finish up on the wood when I got home. I also had him show me how he did the stitching, and it looks super easy. I’m determined to stitch myself should this ever happen again…
- We have ducklings!!! Well, duckling. I watched the last half of the hatching, which was cool. It’s surprising that it survived considering all of the fat ducks stepping on it. I think it’s time for the non-mother ducks to move to another coop for a few weeks…
- I may still be working at nearly 9pm, and I’m due up at 6:30 for an OS telecom, but both of those things happen with a puppy in my lap. I call that an epic win!
- A second duckling is hatching! I picked up the egg and it was moving and breaking out. On a related note, mother ducks *really* don’t like it when you pick up the hatching egg. I probably should do that less.
- You know you’re a farmer when you have to move the cars around to get the tractor out…
- We had two big projects planned for the four-day weekend and had them both done by 11am on day two. Our back-up project is almost done and we have two days left. At this rate I’ll be forced to do some projects in the house! That just won’t do…
- I just put the toilet seat down like a gentleman. I killed a fly with it like a ninja. Yes, I am a Gentleman Ninja Famer!
- Just picked up our second lamb from the butcher. Todd II, may you rest in peace… in my stomach.
- Third snake since we’ve been here, and this one was much bigger. AND, my old farmer neighbour hasn’t had one!
- Home-grown leg of goat with home-grown beer and then home-grown smores off of our home-made BBQ. There’s a theme here… 🙂