Archive for June, 2011

Chooks Ho!!….update #8

June 28, 2011

Work on the chookhouse and yard has dropped back into non-urgent mode, because my friend who is going away, and whose chooks I thought I would be looking after, has decided that she wasn’t very happy with her moveable A-frame system and has found someone to take them permanently. She will eventually put a more permanent system in place and get more chooks. The whole thing has been an interesting learning curve for both of us.

Meanwhile, I have the chook coop in its final position and the roof and sides on the yard.

At one end of the yard, the nest box will poke through the wire wall, so I don’t have to enter the yard to collect eggs. At the other end will be some sort of a gate.

I’m also thinking about landscaping the yard to provide food and interest for the chooks.

I’m wondering about planting a fruit tree within the yard. Not for the chooks, but for me! It’ll be the only place where I’ll be able to keep out parrots, possums & rabbits. It will need to be pruned and shaped to keep it within bounds. I’m considering a cherry, as I don’t have one anywhere else. Whether the chooks will help themselves to the cherries remains to be seen. It’s probably worth a try anyway (unless a reader tells me I’ll be wasting my time and even so I’ll probably do it anyway, because  making mistakes is a good way to learn!).

I also want to put in a small pool so that I can have azolla floating on the top. My friend’s chooks liked it when she gave it to them, so I figure the best way to go is for them to have their own supply, where they can just pick it off the water when they want. It will have to be a very small pool, nothing more than a shallow plastic dish sunk into the ground, with a couple of rocks or logs around it. An idea, anyway.

Along the outer, long side of the yard, I’m already planting some plants that the chooks will be able to peck at through the wire. Comfrey is the first one I’ve planted and I’m researching others. I’ve also put in a passionfruit vine to provide a bit of summer shade.

At the front end, where the gate will be, I’m thinking of a couple of wicking tubs, one on each side of the gate. If I put tomatoes in the tubs, I can tie them to the wire. Other plants, useful to the chooks, can be planted in the tubs and allowed to trail through the wire into the run where they can help themselves.

I’ve learned, from my friend’s chooks, that they often like to perch up off the ground in their yard, so I’m keeping an eye out in the bush for a nice twisted tree branch to suspend.

I read somewhere that chooks are fascinated by shiny things and will go for a few CD’s hanging around. Not sure about that one! What about a mirror? Can a chook recognise itself like a chimpanzee can? This opens up possibilities for all sorts of fun experiments!

First yacon harvest

June 24, 2011

The yacon stems have dropped nearly all their leaves so I harvested the first of the plants today. They don’t need to be dug up—I just grab the stems and yank. This is what was underneath:

The elongated brown tubers are the edible parts. They’re actually swollen roots. They’re very crisp and juicy with a sweet taste and need to be peeled. They’re good in salads (sweet or savoury). I also like them cut into quarter-inch slices and fried in butter. They don’t soften but remain crisp and take on the flavour of the butter.

The knobbly pink tubers are the ones that are planted again to provide the next crop which will form underneath them. The little raised white bits are where new stems will grow.

After a clean-up in the sink this is how they looked:

The growth tubers can be planted again right away, but if I’m not ready to do that,  I’ll store them in a box of moist sand or cocopeat until spring, when they will begin to shoot.

Yacon provides a useful winter harvest when there’s not much else around.

More on wicking beds

June 21, 2011

Wicking beds seem to be increasingly in the news these days.

Here’s a good post from Rob Avis at the Permaculture Research Institute site. Rob has a blog at Verge Permaculture which is well worth bookmarking.

New food dehydrator

June 20, 2011

I always dry my cherry tomatoes in the sun, but last year’s cool summer meant I was having to use the oven most of the time. They need to be dried quickly or they will grow mould, however the oven isn’t really very suitable as it doesn’t produce the low temperatures needed for correct dehydration.

I’ve been thinking about doing more drying and also making fruit leather, so I’ve just blown out the budget and ordered one of these Excalibur food dehydrators.

I read about the Excalibur in The Resilient Gardener by American author Carol Deppe.  She says: ” for the resilient gardener, a dehydrator is not optional”.

She goes on:

The most relevant dehydrators for the home scale are of three types: poorly designed little round-tray dehydrators, workable little round-tray dehydrators, and far superior but more expensive Excaliburs.

The poorly designed little round-tray dehydrators push air up through the lowest tray to the next. So the produce in the second tray gets moist air that has already gone through the first tray, and dries considerably slower. Produce in the third tray gets even moister air and dries even more slowly. Avoid dehydrators with this design.

The other kind of little round-tray dehydrator has an airflow pattern in which the air comes up through a central column and goes out over the trays. This is a better design. The moist air from one tray doesn’t pass over any other tray. However the total amount of air is divided among all the trays. So while you can stack up four trays, for example, each will get only one-fourth the airflow as does a tray used singly, and the batch will take roughly four times longer to dry.

Anything a little round-tray dehydrator can do an Excalibur can do better. The Excalibur has a more powerful fan and heater and a much better design. The airflow is divided and a constant portion flows over each tray. Each tray gets the same amount of air no matter how many trays are in use.

There’s more, but she sold me right away on this type of dehydrator. I didn’t even bother to research any other type. I’ve never seen any of this type in the shops or advertised and thought it must be exclusively American. So I was delighted when I Googled and found an Australian distributor.

I’ll still use the sun to dry when I can, but the Excalibur will be faster and I can do so much more. It means I can buy fruit in large quantities when it’s cheap (or when I’ve grown it), dry it and store it away. Dried produce doesn’t need any electricity to store it like frozen food and takes up a lot less space. There would be no worries about losing valuable frozen food stores during a blackout.

Chooks Ho!!….update #7

June 16, 2011

The chook house was in place, but it needed some fine tuning.

It came equipped with four 25mm (1″) dowel perches—two were for the night  roosting spot and two in the outer area. They were stupid little things and the two in the outside area were particularly useless. They had a screw in each end and were supposed to be attached by suspending the screws on the wire on opposite sides. Not very strong or stable at all.

Of the two in the roost area, one was placed centrally, but the other was so close to the side wall any medium-sized chicken sitting on it would have had no room at all between the perch and the wall to be comfortable.

So I threw out all four perches and made some of my own, using 42mm x 19mm radiata pine. I rounded all the upper sides to make them more comfortable for chooky feet.

This is the roosting area, with the two new perches in place. The external nest box isn’t in place yet—it attaches into that rectangular hole:

Room for three hefty chooks in there!

At the other end I put a vertical piece from top to bottom on the end wall, and a horizontal perch across the middle, then a short cross piece between the two. Plenty of perching room and a good solid job:

I figure they can sleep in the inside roost in winter and might prefer the outside roosts on hot summer nights. I know what I’d do!

Chooks Ho!!….update #6

June 9, 2011

In update #5, I’d put the chook coop together and it was sitting in my living room. And it was still raining. Not all the time, only when I put my head out the door thinking I might at last get something done. I disassembled the pieces and put them back on the deck, cursing Melbourne’s weather. Where’s global warming when you want it?

In the end it did stop raining for long enough that I was able to get the pieces  down to ground level. It was going to be placed with  its rear wall against the adjoining polyhouse, but I needed to assemble it in a spot where I could walk around it to screw the pieces together. Then it would have to be lifted back against the polyhouse.

I had already put the 4 paving stones down and levelled for its final resting place. I put 2 more next to those (level with them and further away) and assembled it there, where I had access all around it. Now it had to be moved back into place.

There’s a nice young (well, younger than me), male neighbour opposite who I knew would be glad to give me a lift with it.

But I looked at it and thought about it for a bit.

I’d been using a long length of metal pipe as a straightedge to get everything level. It was longer than the chookhouse and big enough to use as a roller. I put some pieces of timber across the pavers at right angles, put the roller on these and under the back edge of the chookhouse and pushed gently. Beautiful!! It rolled into place without any effort and I removed the roller and timber cross pieces. Amazing!! It sat there proudly in it’s final spot. I checked with the spirit level and it couldn’t have been better.

I gave myself an elephant sticker. It was the only part of the exercise I thought I would need help with and I had managed it without.

First oca harvest

June 9, 2011

I showed this photo of my oca crop a few posts ago:

It’s looking very healthy at the moment. Normally all the plants would die off in winter and I’d start harvesting the tubers.

I was scrabbling around amongst the growth today and found these near the surface:

So, already tubers have formed and are in the process of enlarging. This rain should help produce some big ones.

I thought about the many South American crops like oca and yacon (which I’m also growing) when I came in and logged on.

There was a comment from Chris at Gully Grove blog, who’d watched the videos I linked to in yesterday’s post, and made the comment that we may have to give up on cereal crops like wheat (and on cereal products like bread), and move on to novel foods which are easier to grow in the permaculture food forest type of food system which was advocated in the video.

Oca and yacon are ideally suited to this type of food system. The tubers can be planted in a clearing amongst trees and shrubs or at the sunny edges of the forest and tubers can be dug as required or left to reproduce themselves.

I remembered that this is the way Jackie French grows potatoes in her wilderness garden. It turns out that Jackie is a favourite of Chris’ too and The Wilderness Garden is one of her favourite books! Likewise!.

Forest gardens

June 8, 2011

It’s funny how things come together.

Yesterday’s post about the future of farming, included a link to a BBC documentary featuring an English woman farmer who realises that fossil fuel based farming has no future and that she must seek alternatives.

At one point in the story, she visits the forest garden of Martin Crawford in the UK and is taken on a tour of the garden.

So today, I do my usual visit to the website of the Permaculture Research Institute and what do I find? A video about Martin Crawford and the garden.


The future of farming

June 7, 2011

It’s freezing cold today and I’m shut inside on the computer.

I’m watching a series of videos from a link sent by a friend in the US.

He said:

It’s a very well done story about a British woman who faces the dual challenges of taking over the responsibility of running the family farm from her aging father and, at the same time, realizes that as fossil-fuel availability goes away that she’ll have to find completely new ways to operate the farm.

The whole program (5 separate videos) was originally a BBC documentary on the future of farming in the UK sans fossil fuels, which someone has put up onto youtube. I remember reading about it when it was made but don’t know if it was shown by the ABC in Australia. I don’t watch the idiot box all that much, so wouldn’t have seen it anyway.

It’s well worth watching, especially if you don’t know a lot about peak oil or haven’t given much thought to the consequences.

Here’s the link.

A peak oil crisis announcement

June 7, 2011

Now….. I think I might have said somewhere that I don’t want to turn this blog onto a ‘peak oil’ blog, but some things are too important to ignore.

Hence this link to a post on the subject.

The first paragraph:

With little fanfare, a press release appeared last week on the website of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES). The release said that during a meeting between Chris Huhne, the UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and representatives of ITPOES, an agreement had been reached that Her Majesty’s Department for Energy and Climate will collaborate with ITPOES on a joint examination of concerns that global oil supply will begin to fall behind demand within as little as five years. This collaboration is seen by the British government as the first step in the development of a national peak oil contingency plan.

So, Britain will be developing a national peak oil contingency plan; what about Oz?

No, we don’t have one. Our government doesn’t want us to know about peak oil.

Oh yes, there have been a few ABC documentaries about the subject (an excellent one a few weeks ago on Catalyst), and a few articles in the paper (this from the Melbourne Age, but originally from the Washington Post), but if you don’t watch or read these things, how would you know what’s going on? The government knows alright, but they’re keeping it under wraps.

You might have a knowledgeable and concerned neighbour who tries to raise your awareness and even goes to the extremes of encouraging you to grow some of your own food to prepare for the coming food crisis. You might, unfortunately, be unable, or unwilling, to see that there’s a crisis in the wings and might shoot said neighbour down in a hail of personal insults (yes, it happened to me!).


The major step forward, however, is the official and semi-public recognition by a major government that global oil supplies will fall behind demand in as little as five years. After years of official denial this is indeed a breakthrough worthy of note.

It sure is.

For now we can only thank Her Majesty’s government for taking some sort of a lead and hope that others will follow soon.

Like maybe, the bunch of idiots we have at the helm here in Oz.

Don’t hold your breath, though.

But do…please…get on with your efforts to become self-sufficient in food, water and energy. For your own good and the good of us all.

(Climbs down off soapbox).