Archive for October, 2016

Polypipe chook feeder (or how to outwit a chicken)

October 31, 2016

When I first decided to get some chickens (by the way, for overseas readers, we call them ‘chooks’ over here in Aussie land…..we’re a bit odd that way, you see)…..anyway….so I had to decide on how to present their food to them. After much internet searching, I found someone who’d made a feeder out of some scrap poly water pipe. I didn’t have any scrap pieces but it’s cheap enough to buy at plumbing suppliers or hardware stores, so I took myself off to Bunnings and their plumbing section.

After spending some time playing around with a short length of pipe and various fittings, I came up with the following masterpiece…a T section and two 45 degree sections, on the end of the pipe :

I started feeding the food that had been recommended by the breeder where I bought the chooks. However chooks have minds of their own and know what they don’t like. The feed was a mix of layer pellets and grains. They loved the grains and tossed out the pellets. Back to the drawing board.

Someone gave me a bag of layer pellets from a different manufacturer and they seemed to like them, so I ended up buying those and a poultry grain mix separately. I didn’t want to bother with mixing the two, so it was off to the store to buy more bits for a second feeder. So now we looked like this….grains in one feeder, pellets in the other. So far so good :


Next problem was with the grain mix. It consisted of sunflower seeds (chook caviar), wheat (nah, won’t eat that…we’re gluten free), sorghum (what’s THAT stuff?), cracked corn (yes, we know all the books say chickens love corn, but WE don’t). So most of it got tossed everywhere in an effort to get at all the sunflower seeds (the books refer to it as ‘beaking’….when they use their beaks to flip aside anything they don’t like). Food all over the ground again. Where did I put that drawing board?

Do away with the 45 degree angle piece and replace with another right angled piece so that they can’t ‘beak’ out the food so easily. Surely this should do it? :


Well, not quite. Because although they don’t relish some of the grains, they do eat them most times, but only after all the reachable sunflower seeds have been scoffed. As they crunch down on the grain, a certain amount is crushed into powder. The powder collects at the bottom, takes up any moisture in the air and cakes hard. Then the grains in the upper part of the pipe won’t flow down freely. The 45 degree end piece is a better shape for free-flowing, but it allows too much beaking out to occur. Drawing board?

Back in the plumbing section of Bunnings, I found they make little push-on caps for the pipes. I wanted the Girls to have access to the feed but not so they could pull it forward with their beaks and onto the ground. So I cut a ‘V’ section in the caps and put them over the ends of the pipe. Success at last! :


Now they couldn’t pull the mixture forwards and out onto the ground. There was still a certain amount of powder produced, but all I had to do was take off the cap and flip out the powder with my finger into a container. It didn’t go to waste….the native Bronzewing pigeons loved it!

Problem solved at last? No….what is it they say about not counting your chickens before they’re hatched?

You see, these chooks are timid little wussies. A leaf falls off a tree and they will panic. If anyone but me goes near them, they will run a mile. It’s embarrassing when I have visitors…..they won’t come near. You can’t brag about your beautiful chooks if they’re skulking in the darkest corner and won’t come out and say hello.

So what happened next in the food saga wasn’t surprising. They would feed so furiously in an attempt to get at the sunflower seeds, that they would actually pull off the cap. It would fall on the ground, I’d hear a flurry of panicky cackles and the four of them would head for the hills. Not only that, but as long as that nasty white thing that had attacked them was still lying on the ground, they wouldn’t come back into the run, not even to go to bed, until I’d removed it.

I didn’t want to glue the cap on. That would have made the process of cleaning out the powder more difficult and I’m a firm believer in not glueing anything unless it’s absolutely necessary, because you never know when you might want to take it apart again. Don’t glue, screw.

I got out the drill and the finest bit I had. Drilled a tiny hole through each side of the cap and into the pipe :


Placed a tiny nail through each hole to hold the cap in place. Voila! (The little bit of elastoplast is there because the hole was still a bit big for the nail) :


Finally, the problem was solved (I hope) :


And to use up the extra bits I’d bought, I made polypipe containers for their water and shell grit :


Don’t get me wrong….chooks are wonderful things to have. They provide fresh eggs, fertiliser for the veggies and lots of laughs. It’s just that I seem to have ended up with a bunch of oddballs.

Making a wicking box

October 27, 2016

It’s been a while since I posted my method of making a wicking box and with some re-arranging of things on the deck, I found I had room for one more box there, making five in all. I’ve slightly varied the method so thought I’d go through it again.

The boxes I use are black plastic crates from Bunnings. I went for black rather than clear plastic, because algae will grow in wet soil when it can get light and I didn’t want ‘green’ sides to all my boxes. I thought the black colour would be an advantage in winter (warmer soil) but might not be so good in summer, though they could be easily shielded from the sun. They’re 60 cm long, 40 cm wide and 25 cm deep; not quite as deep as I would have liked at the time, although there are deeper ones available now, but useful for shallow-rooted plants which most vegetables are. When I started making wicking boxes I stocked up on the crates and bought a large number to store away for future use. This latest one will make 34 in service (I think there’s just one left under the house).

It’s usual, in large wicking beds anyway, to put in some form of perforated pipe across the bottom of the bed, which opens to the surface, through which to add water. The water spreads out to fill the reservoir below the bed and this is where the water comes from to wick up into the soil above. By looking down the pipe or using a dipstick, it’s possible to see if there is water in the reservoir or not.

For a small box like I was going to use, this is unnecessary; all I did was stand a piece of pipe in one corner of the box and drilled drainage holes (one at each end) about one-third of the way up from the bottom :

tues 002

tues 004

I soon found that adding water via the vertical pipe didn’t work, as it was just too slow a method to fill the lower part of the box (I get little frogs making a home in my pipes and they get pretty annoyed if I suddenly dump a load of water into the pipe). So I started watering overhead and have done so ever since. It’s what happens when it rains anyway. I use the pipe simply to check on water levels. If I can see water in the bottom of the pipe, I know the soil at the bottom of the box is saturated and I don’t need to water until I can’t see any water. The boxes will go several days more without water if the plants are small and not sucking much up. Poking a finger into the top few cm will show how moist the growing medium is.

I use home-made compost to fill the boxes. It’s made in a compost tumbler, using the litter and poo from under the perches in the chook coop and I bulk it out with mulched bracken, leaves and any other organic matter that becomes available. Note that I don’t have a water reservoir in the bottom of the box as some people do—my box is completely filled with compost and the bottom is simply saturated with water. Water-loving roots will grow into this layer and fine feeder roots will stick to the damper layer above.

Here’s the newest box on the deck, ready to go. The water in the bottom is from the recent rain—I don’t normally put the water in before I add the compost :


Usually I would just fill the box with compost, but it’s at a premium at the moment, because I’ve been using it to top up all my boxes in preparation for the coming growing season, so to save on compost (and get some extra organic matter into the box), I put a layer of sticks and bark in the bottom. They will rot down eventually. This was the variation from my usual method that I mentioned at the beginning :


I added the compost with some wood ash from the fire :


Topped off with a layer of bracken mulch and we’re ready to go :


I’ll probably plant a tomato at the rear and some climbing beans on either side to climb up the wire trellis I’ve put behind the box and maybe a cucumber or two in the front to scramble over the deck.

By the end of this growing season, it will all have settled down and I’ll top it up before the next crop goes in.

Here’s a line of 10 boxes I put in a few years ago :


I put them up on polystyrene fruit boxes to prevent rabbits accessing them. I’ve since found that a large rabbit can stand on its hind legs and nibble round the edges, so I’ve now put wire around the top of each box. Having them up off the ground means less bending and that’s good for my back.

Individual boxes can easily be covered to keep cabbage white butterflies out :


Sometimes its easier to direct-sow seed rather than go through the tedious process of sowing, potting up seedlings and transplanting. This is mizuna, an Asian green. I just clip off what I need with the scissors. The chooks get a handful every day and provided I cut above the growth point, it simply keeps on growing :


One important thing to remember about wicking boxes is not to over-fertilise. Added nutrients won’t leach away into the subsoil as they would in a normal garden, so what goes into the box stays there until taken up by the plants. I top up my boxes with compost when the level drops and once or twice during the season I’ll fill each plastic tube with worm juice or diluted seaweed fertiliser and let it absorb into the soil at the bottom of the box. It seems to work pretty well. I also add a few worms from the worm farm to help break down the compost.

Wicking boxes are the way to go for a water-saving garden. They suit small gardens, decks and courtyards. They’re easy to put together and provide a decent yield of a variety of food.


Backyard Buddies

October 13, 2016

I was researching something for an upcoming post when I discovered a fantastic website called Backyard Buddies.

It’s an Australian site (sorry, overseas readers) and it’s all about the critters you can find in a typical Aussie garden, including insects, birds, mammals, frogs, reptiles and plants. There’s information about creating habitats for them and a list of wildlife care organisations in each State, should you need to help a Buddy in trouble. I’ve signed up to receive their regular monthly newsletter and will follow them on Facebook (they’re also on Twitter and Instagram).

Backyard Buddies is a free education program run by the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife.

The article I’ve copied and pasted below is from the site. Go take a look. It’s great!


Leafhopper Photo John Tann

Hip Hippity Hoppity Leafhoppers

There’s a spot of yellowy-green, brown or red on your plants and it’s jumping from place to place? Or every time you come to take a closer look it quickly scuttles around to the other side of the leaf?

It could be a leafhopper! They love to bite through leaves, stems and bits of tree trunk to suck up the delicious and nutritious plant sap. Leafhoppers particularly love Eucalyptus trees.

Read more: Leafhoppers


Back in business

October 10, 2016

Before I start, I want to say a big thankyou to those who have made such nice comments about my return to blogging. Real warm glow stuff (I should stop more often!). I won’t reply individually to comments, you’ve all got one big thankyou to share amongst you.

So…the first photo on the ‘new’ blog is one I’m very proud of :


Three beautiful caulis. My first time growing them, although I cheated a bit and bought the seedlings at Bunnings. When they developed huge leaves, on long stalks with no sign of a central flower head, I started picking the leaves for the chooks who love anything in the brassica family. Might as well not waste the leaves, I thought; I didn’t really  expect any flower heads anyway, as I’ve never been very good at getting broccoli to form heads. Then, to my great delight, I noticed tiny heads coming, so I left the rest of the leaves on the plants and waited until the heads were just starting to open a bit and picked them.  Sizewise, they’re the equivalent of a ‘small’ supermarket cauli. Very happy with this effort and will try again next season!

This, I think, is a seedling plum :


I’ve planted it in memory of Bill Mollison who recently went to that great permaculture garden in the sky. The seedling came from a friend’s planter box, which I established for her to grow a few veggies. The contents of her worm farm were routinely emptied in there and some time ago I noticed a dozen or so seedlings that looked like they might be plums. I potted them up and have planted them in various areas in my food forest. This was the last of the batch and I found it when I was looking through my plants for something to plant for Bill.

The comfrey is finally coming back after its winter rest. I must dig up a few more pieces to spread around the food forest. The chooks like it and I can never have enough greens for them :


I’ve been a bit worried about my little Australian Finger Lime. I wrote about it here. I planted it in a large tub next to the gas bottles, up against the side of the deck :


It sat there all winter and hasn’t put out any new leaf growth for spring. The nice, bright yellow-green of the leaves has dulled to a darker green; maybe that was a reaction to the winter cold, but it’s in a sheltered spot facing east and we’ve had some warm days and it hasn’t picked up at all. Some of the leaf tips died and I’ve been expecting it to go to god anytime. Then I noticed these little pink things. Flower buds? Looks like it :


I’m hoping that’s not a sign that it’s making one last try to do its thing before going to god. I’ll be happy to see the leaf colour looking better and new growth appearing. Fingers are crossed.

Tomato seedlings are in the polyhouse waiting to be planted. A bit small yet :



I didn’t bother to sow seeds in the normal way and prick out seedlings. I soaked the seeds overnight and sowed 3  or 4 to each tube. That way there’s no interruption to growth from potting on. I’ll eventually thin to a single seedling per tube by simply cutting off the unwanteds at ground level. I may put some of those in as tiny cuttings. I’ve done it before and it works well.

We have rabbits here. At the far end of the street, there are huge numbers. The property next door to me has breeding burrows which they don’t bother to do anything about. Between us there are two battleaxe driveways to rear properties. The rabbits cross the driveways and head straight into my place. All that side of the property is my food forest; 150 metres long x 15 metres wide. You can imagine how the bunnies love getting in there! I’ve spent the last couple of months going right along the boundary (all 150 metres of it) and adding chicken wire to the bottom part of the existing fencing. It has done some good, I think. The rabbits still come in from the street entrance and from the property behind, but they’re not coming far in. They seem to realise that they can’t get back through the fence and are keeping their retreat options open by staying close to the exits. So the middle part of the food forest has been receiving less damage than usual and self-sown seedlings that normally wouldn’t survive are growing. This large cluster of self-sown poppies is the result :


With any luck, the bees will get some pollen and I’ll get some poppyseed for my home-made bread.

This is a blueberry in a large tub. Nothing strange about that. But look at where the arrow is pointing. How did that get there? A single asparagus :


I just checked the rainfall figures for May, June, July and August and compared them with the average for Melbourne. We had 360 mm and the average is 220 mm. No wonder the lower rear section of the block is squishy to walk on. It’s meant a huge explosion in germination and growth. This is part of the food forest which is on a slight slope and better drained :


The light-green ground cover is chickweed. The thicker mass in the background is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. All that ground was completely bare at the end of summer. The rest of the food forest looks the same. I’ve been pulling the chickweed for the chooks. It’s flowering now and setting seed, which will mean similar growth next winter. The Warrigal Greens will probably die back if we have a dry summer like the last, but it will leave masses of seed, too. I’ve always envied those photos of permaculture gardens which show a huge abundance of growth. Now I’ve got it too. Must be doing something right (or should I just put it down to a beneficent rain god?)

Well…er…I’m back

October 8, 2016

Three reasons really.

First, when I stopped writing in mid-August and said I’d call it a day, I think I was in the throes of the winter blues; the garden was looking woeful and there was nothing much to write about. Now winter is over; sunny days, lots of life-giving rain and spring flowers everywhere, have made me feel better. As I’ve been walking around the garden and  seeing something happening I’ve thought, “I could put that on the blog…oh, no, I can’t.” So now I can!

Second, people are still signing up to the blog. It floored me at first; why would they want to sign up to something that wasn’t going to continue? After thinking about it, I realised that they’d probably come in through the side door and not the front…..reading old posts via a search…..and hadn’t seen the last post which announced I was stopping. I’m feeling a bit guilty about them….signing up to receive an email notification about a new post that would never come. When I looked at the blog’s stats just now, it is still getting up to 50 hits a day. I was very surprised!

Third, while I will still post about what’s happening in the garden, I want to add in some posts about the bigger global picture and some thoughts about  it, particularly self-sufficiency and sustainability issues and of course, energy decline (after all the blog’s by-line is, “Energy decline and self-sufficiency ………..”). Energy plays a major role in everything I do, so it deserves a greater input on the blog.

So there y’go. Now I have to actually write a post and see if I can remember how to ‘save draft’, ‘preview’ and ‘publish’.

I think a tour of the garden is required. With camera in hand, of course.