Archive for the ‘Land Management’ Category

Water Doom: The Spring Gave Out

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Update: 3 May 2010

Recent rain has recharged the spring. There’s good flow into the tank and it’s 3/4 full now. Faucets, shower, etc. are working again.

The streams are still not flowing as usual, so we’re continuing to take it very carefully with water.

—End Update—

The Far North of New Zealand is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. Kaitaia, the town near us, has been running under emergency conditions for weeks. Anyone caught using a hose outside faces a NZ$20,000 fine. The local farming community is in deep trouble. The hay and silage that has been put up for winter is already being used for feed. Some beef and dairy farmers are getting ready to slaughter their herds. Soon, it will be too cold to grow much grass, even if rain comes. But there’s no meaningful rain coming anyway…

Our new kitchen faucet

We have been OK here, but after months of what might as well have been no rain, the spring finally gave out, and we used up the water that had accumulated in the tank. Technically, the spring hasn’t stopped. I’d say that about five litres trickle down to our house per day. And the cows probably drank more water than we used.

For the last two weeks, we have been living over at Becky’s parents’ house. At first, we thought that it would be easier over there with Owen, but it turned out to be pretty hard going because their place isn’t two-year-old proof. We’re back home now, but living in a quasi camping mode. Our total, usable household water supply includes two 20 litre water containers and a 200 litre rainwater barrel that’s about half full. [Update: Our friend Andrew let us borrow another 20 litre container and offered to let us fill up over at his farm.]

I’ve been giving the chooks water from the rain barrel. I’ll probably start giving the dam water to the chickens, but I read somewhere that it’s better not to give very turbid water to chickens. I don’t know if that’s true, but our dam water is very cloudy.

Rainwater barrel

I have been putting off piping water from the dam down to the troughs and garden. Well, nothing puts a bomb under your tail to complete a water infrastructure project like having cows with about a day’s worth of water remaining in their troughs. Luckily, this is a personal, local and regional collapse situation, and not a BIG biggy collapse. I was able to drive to town, in our petrol powered pickup truck/ute, and buy the NZ$550 worth of pipe and fittings that I needed to complete this project. The pipe was even on sale! HAHA. A few hours of work later and the cows had a gravity fed water supply. (Another time, I’ll write about the gravity feed system that I built. It’s working great.) At first, the cows stood by the trough and looked at me, in protest, “We want our spring water back.” But they got used to the dam water pretty fast. Bex and I are happy that we didn’t have to send our cows to the works, or give them away. I doubt that anyone would buy our cows now, since most people are facing the same situation with water.

I’m seriously thinking about buying a Big Berkey water filter, as that thing could keep us going if the drought persists. I could put our dam water through that and it would be fine. If the dam runs out (a really grim possibility) there is still plenty of water in the river below our property. It’s flowing well and the water is probably ok to drink. I just don’t like the word probably when it comes to the safety of water. We could have that water tested, but I wonder if the quality could vary over time… There are no intensive farming operations around that river. It’s just bush and several lifestylers with a few dozen cows over about five kilometres. Anyway, the Big Berkey could come in very handy if the shit really hits the fan here. The reality is that it will probably never be this dry here again in my lifetime, but there’s that word probably again…

Finally, We Have Chickens

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

We recently bought eighteen two-day-old Barred Rock chicks. They were unsexed, so we will probably wind up with something like half of them turning out to be roosters.

Chickens, used properly, are outstanding creatures for permaculture systems. In addition to devastating the dreaded and fast moving kikuyu grass and other weeds that we have here, the chickens will provide us with manure for fertilizer, eggs and meat. They’re also a source of constant entertainment for young Owen and someone like me who has never kept chickens before.

Barred Rock chicks, two days old

We knew we wanted a dual use breed (good for both eggs and meat). I thought that the Australorp was a good choice. However, we couldn’t find any for sale in the area. We decided to go with what had a good reputation locally, what was available locally and what was immediately available.

We found a local couple who breeds Barred Rock chickens, (and several other varieties or chickens and ducks). I doubt that you’ll find anyone who knows more about chooks than Ken Vincent! He has been breeding and showing his chickens in competitions around the world for decades.

If you’re in the Far North of New Zealand and are looking to get some chickens and or ducks for yourself, contact Ken and Ruth Vincent in Kaitaia. Phone: (09) 408 3929.

So, Becky rang the Vincents and they had the Barred Rock chicks available. We did a bit of research and decided that they seemed like an outstanding choice. They’re very popular in New Zealand and in the U.S. (it’s a U.S. breed)—and probably lots of other places. Barred Rock are good layers, good meat birds, have a generally quiet temperament and rarely go broody.

We knew that making chickens work for us would require a plan and a system. After expending a great deal of money, time and effort (Becky’s dad, my father in law, did most of the building—both of my brothers’ in law helped with the chicken house), we have totally converted our gardens into what I would call an integrated rotational chicken system. The garden is now broken up into individual pens of between fifteen and twenty square metres. All of the pens are connected via a central race. Access to each pen is controlled. The chooks are only able to enter the pen or pens we want them to enter.

Our fences are only a metre high, but we think that will be high enough to contain the chickens for two reasons: First, Barred Rock is a large bird. Second, we’re going to clip their flight feathers. If they do manage to escape, we have a couple of options to remedy the situation. We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

As for the layout, our gardens describe an L-shape in our Zone 1 and the main chicken house is located at the angle where the two legs of the L come together. This location is also the gateway area to Zone 2. We are able to send the chickens into Zone 2 as necessary. (See Wikipedia for an overview of permaculture zones, if you’re not familiar with the concept.)

Garden with partitions. The chicken house is visible centre left of frame.

The plan is to move the chickens from pen to pen as required. The chickens will provide tillage (weeding) and manure as they go.

What will we do with all the roosters?

Becky and I like to eat chicken. I really like to eat chicken. Industrial poultry production, however, has put both of us off of it. While it is possible to obtain organic chicken here, I’m not quite sure who is able to afford it. Definitely not us. So, we’re going to go about getting chicken meat in a more traditional manner…

As for what we’re planning on feeding the birds, it’s going to be a variety, most of which they will be finding themselves. We will grow some amaranth for them and possibly other grains that do well here. A major source of protein for them will be maggots. We have an inexhaustible supply of possums here. I have been resiting the urge to grab my rifle and head out into the night lately. I’m letting them build up until our chickens are outside full time. At that point, I will begin trapping and shooting possums at will.

After ripening for about a day (fly strike), the possum carcass will be placed in a 20 litre bucket with 10mm holes drilled around the base. The bucket is suspended above the chickens. People who have done this report that the chickens simply camp out below the bucket, waiting for the next pennies from Heaven to fall. Use biofilter (straw, sawdust or other matter) to keep the smell down.

Farmlet chickens will feast on maggots derived from possum carcasses

While it’s a simple matter to buy bags of feed for chickens, that practice is both expensive and likely to be disrupted in the future (energy shortages, economic collapse, weather related calamity, take your pick). Our goal is to see how little feed we need to buy. Ironically, the possum, a threat to multiple species and habitats in New Zealand, readily converts into maggots that the chickens love to eat.

This is just a general overview. We don’t really know the particulars of how this is going to work, or not work. The permaculture materials I’ve looked at are notably useless when it comes to details on systems like this. (Mollison’s Designers’ Manual has a couple of pictures of one operating in Hawaii.) So, we started with the theory and tried to come up with a plan to make it work.

Goals for the Year of the Ox

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

1. The first goal has to be something for Owen, of course! Go for a walk, or spend time doing yoga or dancing with Owen every day. Owen loves to dance, and has progressed recently from squatting up and down in time to the music to doing cute little moves. We love dancing with him. It’s also neat to take him for a walk and watch him charge through the undergrowth, tackling obstacles headlong. It should be no hardship to reach this goal!

Owen likes to dance

2. Finish setting up chook house and run, and GET SOME CHOOKS! We are well on the way to achieving this one already, but have to keep up the momentum.

3. Install solar hot water.

4. Make camembert, feta, and hard cheese. Also do some goat cheese experiments in the spring.

5. Cure some of our own meat. Specifically, I want to have a go at making corned beef and corned tongue.

6. Experiment with cooking corn and amaranth.

7. Start milking the goats in spring. This is a big one because it requires that we arrange some extra goat housing and a sheltered place to milk goats. It also requires that we find a suitable buck for our dear Daphne and Lulu.

8. Start “bushman’s toilet paper” seedlings. I’d also like to start some other tree seedlings, perhaps including carob, Japanese raisin tree and stone pine.

9. Improve winter vegetable garden over last year’s effort. I have to hurry up and get organised for autumn seed planting if I’m serious about achieving this one! We are a bit pinched for space at the moment due to work on the chook runs, so I’m going to have to employ all my garden cunning to fit in the crops we want to grow.

10. Save onion seed, and plant our first onion crop from home-saved seed. The seedheads are already ripening on the onions, so I’ll be embarking on this project very soon.

11. Get rid of the kikuyu in the areas around the lemon and lime trees in the house paddock, and work on establishing perennial ground cover to keep weeds at bay. The chooks will have an important part to play here.

12. Complete Playcentre Course 2. This might seem a bit off-topic for Farmlet, but our local Playcentre is an important part of our lifestyle here. Playcentre is a parent-run co-op where New Zealand children up to age 6 can go for free. Playcentre funding depends (among other things) on having enough parents present who have completed Playcentre training courses. Peria Playcentre is small and rather struggling to muster enough qualified parents at the moment. Owen and I love going to Playcentre, and I’m keen to do my part to support our Centre.

13. Update the Farmlet website at least once a week. I haven’t got off to a very good start on this goal, but the year of the Ox is still young and there are lots of things I want to write about!

Bill Mollison, 1981: Permaculture Design Course Transcript

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Interesting, useful, free: Permaculture Design Course Transcript.

Research Credit: TF

Goals for the Year of the Rat

Friday, March 14th, 2008

1. Do “baby yoga” with Owen and have lots of fun. Any goal that relates to our precious baby would have to top the list, of course! I have a couple of neat books, Itsy Bitsy Yoga and Yoga Mom, Buddha Baby, which are helping us get started.

2. Build a chook house and chook run. We have had this on our “to do” list ever since we arrived on the Farmlet. Can’t believe we still haven’t done it. Disgraceful! Still, the extra time has allowed us to understand more about our land and our needs. Our chook run plans have changed and developed a lot over the past two years. It is now high time to put plans into action!

3. Install a solar water heater. Kevin has been doing the research, and has finally found what he thinks may be the right system for us. This will be a big step towards reducing our energy bills.

4. We plan that calves and goat kids will be born on the Farmlet this coming spring. This means we have to hook our cows and goats up with bull/buck, of course. I’ll be writing more on this matter very soon! Calves and kids mean fresh cow and goat milk. Yum! This year we hope to milk Daphne and Lulu (the goats) for the first time.

5. Carrying on from #4: Extend the small goat house and build a milking stand for the goats. The small goat house is all very well for two does, but certainly wouldn’t fit their kids as well. Something needs to be done about this.

6. Undertake some cool cheese projects using fresh cow and goat milk.

7. Make delicious meals using meat raised on the Farmlet. Yes, we have exciting plans for Herman Beefsteak when he reaches “the beefsteak phase of his career”! I’m looking forward to sharing some recipes. It’s especially nice to think that the first meat Owen will ever eat will have been raised kindly and cleanly here on the Farmlet.

Herman Beefsteak

8. Experiment with grinding and cooking cornmeal, including some from our own corn.

9. Save seeds from more of our vegetables, herbs, and flowers. As our garden matures and we discover which varieties of vegetables do best for us, we are committed to saving more and more of our own seed.

10. Continue to battle kikuyu and work on “taming” the house paddock. We hope to work on weed barriers this year, with the aim of reducing the ongoing effort.

11. Attempt to make some more crusty fermented beverages. In particular, we’d like to try making wine from our own grapes. We’d better hurry up with this project, since it’s already grape season!

12. Raise some seedlings of “bushman’s toilet paper” to plant out in the garden. This project was on our list last year, and I can’t believe we forgot all about it. I’m really keen to do this!

13. Last but not least: I want to write at least one update per week for the Farmlet website!

Best wishes to all for the Year of the Rat! It looks sure to be a busy and exciting one on the Farmlet.