Friday, April 20, 2012

Mandala Chook Clock Garden

Published in Grass Roots Magazine 2014.

The gardeners best friend is surely the chicken. They dig up weeds and process food scraps into beautiful manure and fresh eggs. Not to mention the entertainment of watching their antics. These attributes make chickens great workers in the vegetable patch by reducing human labour. All they ask for in return is a handful of grain and a warm dry perch to roost on. 

With a little planning chooks can be integrated into a rotational vegetable bed system with great success. For our new garden we have chosen a variation on a mandala circle garden by combining it with a chook clock system. A mandala garden is an aesthetically pleasing design comprised of a circular garden, generally with one entry point, and a series of keyhole paths radiating out from the centre. This design maximises the growing space by minimising paths, whilst keeping everything within reach for easy harvesting. A typical mandala arranges each bed as a circle with the key hole path at the centre. A clock chook system places a chicken house in the centre of two or more fenced chicken yards that can be used as rotational vegetable beds. 

In our garden we have chosen to overlay the clock concept onto a mandala garden. The chicken house is placed in the centre where the paths converge, the beds are shaped into pie slices and fenced, with a keyhole path providing access to the centre of each bed. The system will operate on a rotation of chickens for 1 - 3 weeks, followed by vegetables for one to two crops, followed by chickens and so forth. Each bed will be sown with a mixture of seasonal vegetables of a quantity that will supply our household for 3 - 4 weeks, with a new bed sown every 3 - 4 weeks. This differs to the classic method of planting one plant family per bed, resembling more of a parterre garden that will provide successive harvests. The chickens will not be required full time in the vegetable garden, so will have access to our orchard, food forest or horse paddock at other times. 

This system utilises chickens to reduce human labour, improve the soil and keeps them healthy by the process of regularly moving them to new ground to avoid a worm build up in the soil. The fixed chook house has advantages over other systems that use chicken tractors or domes. The house can be raised over a meter above ground level to prevent access by dogs or foxes, and can be well insulated against temperature extremes and noisy roosters. 

Rotational Mandala Garden Design

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A new home, a new adventure

new home

Our first plot of land to make our own. Paws paws and figs, olives, pears, water melons dripping with juice, ripe tomatoes, stands of corn that reach over our heads, apricots, bananas, fresh picked basil, a sea of sweet potatoe vines and purple kale... this is just a little of what we hope to fill our backyard with in the coming year. Chokos? Our neighbour has kindly given us a share of her vine. All this is just for wetting the appetite, my wish list of scrumptious delights that we hope to have popping out of the ground come summer is a very long list. So how much can one fit into a suburban block of 650m sq? I feel (much to my partner's dismay over how many holes he'll be digging) that it's our job to find out. That's certainly a gut feeling.

Self sufficient is a term that we hear bandied around often, but how many people actually live that lifestyle? Protein, greens, starch, fibre (wool, cotton, hemp), dye, medicine, energy (fuel, timber, sun), water... are just some of the essentials we require to live comfortably. Whilst most honourable, I'd like to say it is our aim. But on a rung of reality, and given our land size and time, as close to self sufficient as possible, whilst less romantic, is a far more honest appraisal of our goal.  

So why put in all the effort to grow our own? With the choice of an excellent local organic store who deliver locally grown produce, the Newcastle farmers market, an organic co-op, and even woolys has an organic food line, we seem to be swimming in options to make ethically and environmentally sound food choices. 

When I get up in the morning and take a wander in my gumboots, preferably still wearing pjs, and I see how much the potatoes have grown overnight, or watch our hen calling to our new chick to come and eat breaky, or pick the caterpillars off the half eaten cabbage, or simply pause to listen to the echo of the bellbirds, unpacking produce out of a styrofoam delivery box just doesn't do it for me. The joy of putting my hand into the earth and knowing that it is that soil which I have fed, nurtured and cared for, that is going to feed me, is a humble beauty. The opportunity to be connected to that which sustains one is easily underestimated. It is a precious thing. To have that connection allows us to know it. That familiarity breeds respect and a deep sense of responsibility to see that no harm comes to that earth. The same applies to our relationship with the wider environment. 
And, if ever I need another reason to grow my own it is, as I tell my partner Cameron when he laments that the peas never make it to the kitchen, that they always taste better when eaten in the garden!

Just Hatched

Here's a beautiful thing....
Take one rooster and one hen, let them get to know each other a little. When the hen settles herself onto the nest, wish her luck and wait 21 days. Then listen.... cheep cheep, cheep cheep. 

Only a short time a go my partner and I began to settle into our first little piece of earth and greenery. We like to call it home, and today it begins to ever feel more so as we welcome our first new feathery friend. On my daily inspection of the original greenhouse that serves as a makeshift chook house, I caught out of the corner of my eye a halo of light on the shoulder of our little black Belgium Bantam, otherwise known as Pigeon, who'd been tight on her nest for nearly 3 weeks. A second glance revealed a newly hatched little chicken. 

There's something special about witnessing the birth of new life. 

- 5th March 2012
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