Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fluffy Duck Paintings

Painting fluffy white ducks is such fun. My four white miniature ducks offer such inspiration as they follow me around the garden trying to dig in every hole I dig.

Available to purchase at my Etsy Shop

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Grow Your Carrots in the Bath: How To Make A Wicking Bed

Published in Grass Roots magazine Dec/Jan 2015/2016 issue.

 It started in a tiny terracotta pot on a balcony that baked in summer. I planted some lettuce seeds. They grew to about 10cm high. And then they fried. Crispy lettuce anyone? My gardening skills have come some distance from my first attempt in that rental unit from my uni days. At the moment we are eating broccoli from the garden every night, salad, Asian greens, and we are still working our way through the Summer pumpkin harvest. But when it comes to carrots, there is a little window in winter when they happily grow for me, but the rest of the year nothing happens. The seed packet tells me they will grow all year round in our temperate climate. So are my gardening skills still as bad as my crispy lettuce days?

Last month I attended a workshop on wicking beds at Purple Pear Farm on the outskirts of Maitland. Even though they grow vege for a living, to my relief, it seems they were experiencing the same lack of carrots as I was. The challenge, we were informed, is that carrots have a very particular need for constant soil moisture levels. At germination carrots don't forgive you if the sun drys out their soil between your scheduled daily watering. The answer, build a bed that's self watering. You can even go on holidays and your carrots will still be happy.

Introducing the wicking bed. Here's how you can build one from an old bath tub, or two...

Wicking Bed Diagram: Construction can be from any waterproof vessel, such as an old water-tank, sink or in this case a bath tub. A water reservoir is created in the bottom with an overflow at right. The moisture naturally wicks up through the soil maintaining the soil at a constant moisture level. Perfect for growing carrots!

Step 1: Remove the drain hole and replace it in an inverted position. Build a frame for your vessel to sit on so that it sits at least 15cm above the ground to allow for drainage.

Step 2: Prepare 2 lengths of pipe as shown. The first screws into the inverted drain hole, with a hole drilled at the desired maximum water level for the reservoir. This creates the overflow. The second pipe receives water from above when the reservoir needs topping up. The holes along the bottom length of it evenly distribute the water into the reservoir. Ensure a cap is placed on the bottom end of it to prevent the water flowing straight through.
Step 3: Add some structure to the reservoir. Here old tree tube trays have been adapted to allow room for the pipes to pass through them. This creates a space below the soil for the water reservoir. Alternatively gravel or pebbles could be used. Ensure a valley is allowed between the sides of the bath tub so that the soil can enter the reservoir.
Step 4: Cut a length of geo textile to size and place in the bottom of the bath tub. Ensure there is ample overhang on the sides.
Step 5: Wrap Geo textile around the hole on the overflow pipe to prevent the entry of the growing medium. Secure it with a cable tie or similar.
Step 6: Pack the growing medium (in the case 'man sand' from the local landscape supplier is used) around the edges of the reservoir structure. Then continue to fill to the top.
Step 7: Your wicking bed is now ready for planting! Here is a successful bed of carrot and radish seedlings.
Step 8: Just in case the sun gets a little fiesty, it doesn't hurt to put a little extra protection in place. Here an old coffee bean hessian sack makes the perfect cover for carrot seeds that are yet to germinate.

The Wicking Bed workshop was kindly run by Purple Pear Farm, organised by the Hunter Organic Growers Society.

Read Seed Raising Workshop at Purple Pear Organics

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How To Make A Chicken Saddle

Published in Australasian Poultry Magazine 2015

 Those boys can get feisty when they favour a good looking chick. Our girls are a mixed lot, they hail from Belgium, Japan and South America. It just so happens that our rooster Reggie isn't very adventurous and prefers his own kind, lavender arucana. Only one of our hens meet the criteria. Being the favourite she has copped the wear of his claws on her back, leaving a trail of broken and missing feathers, a rooster track.

A bit of leather and elastic and the chicken saddle comes to the rescue. Essentially a cover worn over your hens back to protect her during mating, it can be left on as needed. Here's how you can make one for your lovely ladies...

Bantam size chicken saddle. Increase the size by between 50 - 100% for a full sized hen.

Step 1: Make the pattern
Draw the above pattern on a piece of paper, adjusting the scale to suit your hen. This pattern fits a bantam hen. I suggest increasing the size by 50% for your average sized hen. Place a paper cut out of the pattern over your hens back and check the sizing. The top should sit between your hens wings, at the base of the neck, without interfering with their movement. The bottom should fit just above the tail feathers. The arcs should curve around the wing, allowing the saddle to sit flat on their back. Adjust the pattern as needed.

Step 2: Cut out the leather or fabric

Transfer the pattern to your material. Cut out the leather, or alternatively layer two to three heavy pieces of fabric together and then sew around the edges.

The backside of the chicken saddle. ensure the smooth side of the clips are against
the hen for comfort.

Step 3: Attach the elastic
Cut the elastic to measure the same width as the saddle, with a little extra to allow for adjustment to fit your hen. Center it on the top of the saddle and sew in place. Try your saddle on the hen for size. Wrap the elastic around the wings and measure where it meets the leather at a comfortable length. The elastic should be firm but not stretched when fitted, it merely allows for some give as the hen moves around. Mark the correct length with a pencil. Attach the elastic at the pencil mark to the corners of the saddle with metal buttons using a punch tool.

Your chicken saddle is now ready to wear! Dress your lady and watch as her feathers grow back. 

Our hen sporting her new chicken saddle

The chicken saddle should fit right across their back and sit under the wings to ensure a good coverage of their back.

Our Arucana hen after a few months of wearing the chicken saddle
is well feathered again

Order a custom made Chicken Saddle:

If you would prefer to purchase a ready made chicken saddle please visit my etsy shop:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Biodynamics in the Vineyard

Fill a cow horn with manure from a lactating cow, bury it in the ground for six months, add a small amount to a bucket of warm water and stir for one hour alternately clockwise and anti-clockwise forming a vortex. Spray over your land in a dilute concentration. This practice might sound more akin to witch craft or some airy fairy hippy approach to farming, however Biodynamic wines are known to come out tops in awards year after year.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Krinklewood Vineyard in the quiet farming community of Broke with the Hunter Organic Growers Society. West of the busy Pokolbin Wine area, heart of the Hunter Wine tourism mecca, the air carried a muffled sound of silence. 

What I know about biodynamics is the basics. A few years ago I spent a week living in a converted silo on a biodynamic beef farm in the Fosterton Valley near Dungog. I quizzed the lovely couple that welcomed us a guests on their farming practice. What is biodynamic farming? Once a year their soil humus levels are checked, you can tell how much humus their is by the amount of fine white roots that show in a cross section of grass. I watched a dvd about making compost and using the biodynamic preparations. Their cows looked happy, and they tasted good too. In fact I am yet to taste a better beef steak.

Rod Windrim began planting their 48 acre vineyard in 1997. Ten years later they became fully certified biodynamic. He welcomed us with a chat about how they run things. Have you met our Woofers? Apologies issued forth as he tended to jump from one topic to the next. Questions were asked and answered. The biodynamic approach to farming was developed in the 1930's by Rudolf Steiner in Germany in response to the requests by local farmers to help them re-vitalise their farms after the ill effects of chemical agriculture. Steiner developed a system that worked to encourage the natural processes present on the farm to perform optimally. 

On every biodynamic farm I have visited I notice some interesting looking 'fountains' like the one to the right. Central to this holistic approach to farming is the use of 'preparations' like the composted cow dung in the horn. These 'fountains' are actually used to create the vortex that I think of as a way of imparting a particular energy to the preps. It makes them alive, active.

The farm as a living organism. There is a way of thinking that has emerged that sees the earth as one organism. In fact it even has a new name: Gaia. Earth is just plain old earth, but see it as a whole network of complex systems that interrelate to create a whole living system, then Earth becomes Gaia. This approach to seeing every thing in terms of how it relates to the next thing is what Biodynamics is about. 

Rod buries around 160 cow horns a year to produce what's known as
the bio dynamic 500 preparation.

The moon creates an arc across the sky. At particular times of the month it rises higher in it's arc. At this time the sap in plants rises to the upper and outer extremities, to it's leaves and branches. Like the ocean tides, the sap flow is directed by the moon. Prune the vines when the moon is low, or descending and sap flow is low, and you'll have dry prunings good for chopping into mulch. At Krinklewood everything is guided by natures rhythms. Pruning, planting, composting, is done when the moon indicates it is the optimal time. Where it is in the sky, what constellation it is in front of, how far away from earth it is. All this that happens out there in the cosmos influences what happens here. One big organism, earth as part of the universe. 

Another way of making BD 500 is using a cow pat pit as Rod shows us.

We were all wondering why we didn't bring our trailers to fill up on some good compost. Rod wouldn't have missed a bit taken off his acre or so of compost rows, would he? Most of this was once the forest where now the new express way near Maitland is going through. Better turned into wine than nothing I guess...
The maremma dog, the classic stock defender. He was brought to guard the sheep and poultry from wild dogs and foxes. However in a bid to tame him to humans he has been spending a little bit too much time under the family bed and not enough in the paddock.

Making the most of their resources, ducks are kept on the dam for the families consumption.

Bees provide honey for the family and the cellar door shop.

Dorper sheep and chicken tractor in the vines.

Beautiful pigs offer pork for the
family's table

Poly farming systems are the opposite to mainstream monoculture, where by more than one species is integrated into a production system. Joel Salatin has populised this approach to farming in organic circles. Like nature, species are chosen that will provide mutual benefits to each. Whilst Krinklewood is predominately a wine operation, Rod cell grazes cattle, dorper sheep and chickens through his vines. By keeping them on the move they have enough to graze to keep them from damaging the vines. So in one space he increases his yields, producing meat in addition to wine, and each of the animals provide a service, eating down the grass and weeds and turning it into beautiful fertiliser, deposited just where it is needed. This system reduces human labour and petrol inputs.

I have been using my moon calender to plant by. Sometimes I feel I know when it's time to give things a break in the garden before I even look at the calender. I think most of us are more in tune with nature than we realise. Using such aids may be more a means to recognising what we already know than learning something new. Next on my list is to try out some of the biodynamic preps. I am convinced they have something to offer my garden. Cow manure that has been through the horn treatment can be purchased from specialist suppliers for use in your own garden. Give it a go. Who knows, you might find a new kind of balance. 

For more info:

Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard 

Hunter Organic Growers Society

Monday, June 17, 2013

Inspiration from Joel Salatin: Part 4 - Fertility Comes From Somewhere Else.

Today it takes up to 10 calories of oil to produce one calorie of food. Joel Salatin from the US, heralded as the worlds most successful farmer, was in Sydney recently where he gave an illuminating talk. By uncovering the inefficiencies of our chemical food system he offers us a better way to treat the land and ourselves. Inspired, I consider how these ideas can be applied on the household level in part 4.
Read previous posts in this series....  PART 1    PART 2     PART 3

Today's farming system is based on a concept that everything that is required by the farm must come from outside the farm. Fertiliser, seed, stock, is all bought in, requiring energy to produce it, package it, market it and ship it around the world. This is the linear farm factory which sustains the world with food. Inputs go in one end and food comes out the other. It's a carbon hungry production line. Salatin points to his chest "Fertility is in-sourced... wellness comes from in here". At Polyface Farm they have examined how nature does this. 

Nature runs a closed carbon loop. When we burn wood to make a fire, we are releasing the energy that the tree has stored in its timber. The timber is biomass; a material that was once living that over the course of its life has stored energy from food and/or the sun in its tissues. This material represents a valuable source of potential energy. It's an "organic savings account". A properly managed farm is potentially abundant in this resource. What Salatin trys to do is nurture a loop that keeps on cycling this wealth, the carbon, on the farm, ensuring that any leaks are as slow as possible. 

Mainstream farming operations have bought into the concept that farming is a linear system, that it cannot be cyclical, that it cannot recycle its wastes into cheap on farm energy resources. "Our waste stream is viewed as some sort of 'get it away from me!". Waste by definition describes materials that have been rejected. It implies a uselessness and a complete devaluing of those materials. However even those things that we reject are a resource to the next system. Why do birds flock over our council dumps? Because to them it is a banquet. Salatin advocates that we need to change the way we think about the concept of waste. "Cities could drive their own energy field if we could quit throwing it away".  Consequently he describes that it is "evil" that we are squandering our resources. 

What you can do: Make waste a thing of the past via:

  • Start a compost pile, worm farm or invest in a bench-top compost system to breakdown your food wastes and make plant fertiliser.
  • Only purchase good quality items that  you really need. Ask yourself before you buy "Can I live without this?"
  • Make or grow what you need from the resources you have. Turn those fabrics in the cupboard into a beautiful new outfit. Save the seeds from this seasons tomatoe crop to plant next season.
  • Repair items that break down and always choose serviceable products with quality parts when a new purchase is required.
  • Be creative, find new ways to reuse or re-purpose items that are damaged and can no longer serve their original purpose. Try weaving old clothes into a colourful new rug. 
  • Investigate using other peoples discarded items to fulfill your own needs. Scour road side throw outs for that new garden gate (old doors work well).
  • Give away items you don't need to those who can use them. Donate to a charity or join Freecyle, the online forum for giving and receiving unwanted items.   
  • Make the most of our resources. If you have an item that you use only occasionally, consider offering it for rent at those times it's not in use. Rent out your caravan, ladder or canoe on a renting website such as Rentoid or Open Shed.

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