Sunday, September 16, 2012

September Update Part I

Today I spent nearly a full day in the garden and yet it does not look like it. This is somewhat disappointing, however its the end vision that keeps me inspired. If I can get the place as lush and productive as last year - or better - I'll be happy.

Though having not been able to spend much time out there over the last few weeks means I feel rushed now to get things going while there is a real energy spurt occurring

The priority job was getting the guinea pigs into the chicken's 'straw yard" and making it secure. This was easier than I thought it would be as much of the place was closed in already and the addition of some garden trellis made smaller holes pig proof. I have now moved two of the large compost bins into the straw yard as I value the growing space in the garden too much this year! The advantage is also that the chooks enjoy the presence of the extra insect life that is attracted to the bins as well as compost worms and slater bugs. It also is a convenient spot to put some of the scraps that the chooks don't eat. They are simply raked up and put into the bin to keep the yard somewhat tidy - especially now that it is home to an extended family of guinea pigs.

I removed the old hutch that was in the chook yard as the chooks were no longer using it to lay in and it was getting weathered and took up good scratching space. I trimmed the mallee tree and bottlebrush a little and mulched the remaining twigs that had been laying around for a while.

More tripods were made for growing plants up and I even made a bamboo frame for training and supporting a choko on that was well under way with new growth and was located in the corer of the new garden bed. I also found what looked like self-seeded basella which I planted in a large pot with a bamboo teepee to train the plants up.

My wife helped early in the day with the task of ripping up some fluted cardboard which I have been storing under the house and using in the worm farms as I find the worms really love to get in amongst the layers and sometimes will lay their cocoons there. The picture below is under the house where I am using the plastic tubs to start worm farms. The tubs are filled with shredded paper or newspaper, kitchen scraps, weeds and greens from the garden that are weeded out or pruned and sand (which really is just sand and is quite fine, but after this treatment it makes wonderful soil). I have begun to do this because as we are eating volumes more fruit and vegetables than ever before we are creating a lot more kitchen waste. It is a regular thing for us to fill a 9 litre bucket of kitchen waste each day, or more. Our garden areas are limited in size so I really only buried scraps in the first few months of us moving in. Most everything is planted out with stuff now so I have taken to using compost bins and these tubs to solve the problem. It is also intended to assist my wife with having somewhere to put the scraps instead of having to ask me where they are to go next. : )

What actually happens is that I will leave these tubs to sit once full for up to twelve months while the worms do their thing and transform the contents into wonderful, dark, water retentive soil. In this way I am using the area under the house in a more productive way and there is no shortage of areas to put the scrap bucket! I even have an aero bin set up which will function in a similar way over an extended period of time. In my experience I have found newsprint and straw to be a much more rich soil than simply horse manure which breaks down very quickly - and then disappears. Newsprint on the otherhand - and hay or straw - make a very dark compost or vermi-compost that has increased microbial activity. Ideally, I will have enough compost and castings to add a top dressing to the large vegetable garden bed each year - if not twice a year!

I realise that the garden has evolved from the early plans I had for it and I should do a more recent plan of what is where and what is being used. These tubs are a good example.

Here is the simple bamboo trellis I constructed today to give the choko some climbing space. I am utilising vertical spaces more this year as I can grow more and it adds to the layers in the garden and will also hopefully break up some of the easterlies when they come in summer.  In the garden bed is some of the sludge from the kitchen sink pit where the worms hang around some of the run-off water and food bits and are present in crazy numbers. The soil is literally crawling with them. I also planted our Japanese Taro and water spinach in the vicinity of the pit as the soil is constantly moist and should be ideal for them. They did poorly in the pot and I am hoping with fend for themselves better here.

In the image below are the two crops of broad beans I have in at the moment. One is aquadulce - on the left - and the other is more a typical fava bean. I have already marked some with red ribbon so that we know which ones we will be saving seed from. In the foreground is a broccoli that we are also letting go to seed which is currently in flower.


The Container Garden at the beginning of Spring getting ready for an overhaul
There are two main 'events' occuring this year in the garden.

The Main Event is an ambitious planting of seeds that I have collected over the years in order to get fresh new seeds for storing and putting into the seed bank for the local savers network I have set up. Alongside this I am also wanting to reap a fairly decent harvest for the growing family to feed on  - and to maintain this indefinately once the new back garden space comes 'on-line' after sitting in a semi-fallow kind of state for the last few months.

The other event is a planned open garden in conjunction with one of our neighbours to take place in late November. This has meant acting NOW to get seeds and plants in rather than leaving it a week, or two ..... or three as would normally happen with the distractions of family, work and other projects.

Having upped the stakes, it has - as any gardener would know - created some challenges that are having to be overcome fairly quickly, whilst still working with the same constraints as before. ie. limited surface area for growing plants, limited areas of direct sunlight, working in with the other components of the system such as the chickens, guinea pigs and our own inputs such as kitchen waste and recycling.

Also, more than previously, TIME has a new value and appreciation. Mainly because it is 'maxed out' with the priorities of our new little family member and his changing requirements. This is a post all of its own that I may or may not get to, but probably SHOULD!

So, given all these new restraints, goals, objectives and challenges I am dealing with it the one way I see fit - ADAPT.

This has meant remaining ever so flexible and looking at things from other perspectives. Dropping some ideas and creating new ones. Looking for ways of having things work and making the advantages sing above the disadvantages. A good example of this is the post below of the consolidation and integration of the chooks and guinea pigs.

As I work on the garden I will document some of these things for future reference.

Chickens VS Guinea Pigs

Grazing guinea pigs in the orchard/chook yard out of town.
Last Friday afternoon we packed up our three remaining boar guinea pigs and took them for a drive in the countryside to a lovely property where the folks there keep guinea pigs and chickens in a netted orchard. I had read of keeping guinea pigs and chickens together before and in this example they really worked well together and did their own thing. With past problems of in-breeding our three lads were welcomed as they would introduce some 'new blood' into the population.

It was great to see our males find a new home and it now means our own guinea pigs numbers are finally back to a manageable level again. After the losses of the last few months due to stray cats in the garden and the birth of six new babies we are starting again and I have some new ideas after making this visit out to the farm.

At present our guinea pigs are housed in a large hutch to keep them safe from the cats. Although I have not seen a cat in the yard for some weeks now, our last two free-range guinea pigs suddenly vanished overnight. That was around last Wednesday. Seeing firsthand how the chickens and guinea pigs interacted with each other I am looking at housing our guinea pigs with the chooks. Already I can see the benefits.

  • More space to roam again. I really dislike keeping them caged up. I much prefer having them roam on their own and keeping them in the chook yard will give them a bit more freedom once again.
  • They will still be in a semi-secure area and have access to convenient shelters from curious chooks, stray cats and whatever else may come their way such as storms or hail.
  • When they were free-range before they snuck into the chook yard to nibble on scraps and now they can share the feast freely. This means that we won't have to discern between what we feed the chooks and the guinea pigs. All the kitchen scraps for them can go in the one spot and they can deal with them at their leisure.
  • Being in the one spot - as with the chooks - means that their droppings will be concentrated in the one area and this will make it easier to clean. I actually don't see it as cleaning anymore because now that I am using the woodchips in the yard I just need to keep it turned over until I use it on the garden - and then it will have chicken and guinea pig manures in it!
  • The greatest advantage is that with the six remaining guinea pigs being in the chook yard I can remove the hutch and use the garden space to plant more vegetables. It also means that although they are not free-range in the garden, I can concentrate on planting vegetables wherever I wish and not having to protect certain plants from hungry guinea pigs. Given that I am really playing all out in the garden this year for a big harvest this is going to be very helpful.
I will need to make some slight modifications to the chook yard perimeter to make sure the guinea pigs stay where they are required, but still give the chooks a bit of access to places.

Oh, I must mention too that we have had Jennifer Aniston go clucky again and have been given some fertilised eggs from a friend so I also need to give her a bit of room to have her own space.