Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

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.

Red Cabbage Sauerkraut

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

We have just harvested our little crop of red cabbages, and I have made several jars of pretty purple sauerkraut.

Red Drumhead cabbages

These cabbages (“Red Drumhead” from Kings Seeds) have proven very hardy and pest resistant in our garden. We prefer to plant them in the autumn. They are not especially large cabbages, but the heads are really nice and compact. Owen has been pointing at them for weeks and saying, “yum-a-num”! It will be fun to give him some purple sauerkraut to try.

I’ve already fertilised the area where the cabbages came out with rock dust and compost, and have planted some cherry tomatoes there — a variety called “Baxter’s Early Bush” from Running Brook Seeds. If these thrive, I expect they will be a very popular snack for Owen, who loves to gather food and flowers from the garden.

Starting Seeds

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

The planting season is in full swing, despite some unseasonably cold weather last week. The peas are already climbing the netting, and lettuces, bunching onions, leeks and violas have been planted out in the garden. Lots more still to come!

Among the exciting new additions to the garden this year:

Viola — edible collection
Pansies — old fashioned
Sweet Marigold Hyssop (supposed to be an excellent companion plant)
White Yarrow (we are keen to experiment with using this to make some kind of unhopped ale, maybe using water kefir grains)
Bergamot — Bee Balm
Lemon Bergamot
Spilanthes — Sechuan Button
Basil — Sacred
Basil — Red Opal

I am so hoping that we will soon be picking edible violas to add to our salads and caraway seeds to flavour our sauerkraut.

Peas climb up some chicken fence



Companion Planting with Brasicas. . . and Owen

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Owen and I are busy in the garden this spring. The vegetable beds need to be dug and cleared, and most of them are also being re-located due to the progress we are making with building chook enclosures. I’m also starting lots of seeds for the coming season, with the peas already having been planted out in the garden. This year, we are growing a green pea called “Oregon Trail” and a soup pea called “Tall Capuchjner.” Owen likes to do digging, and helps to prepare pots for the seeds. He knows to be very careful around the trays and pots where the vegetable seedlings are growing. It’s wonderful to be able to include him in some of the work around the garden, and to watch him enjoying the fresh air, dirt, sunshine and plants.

Young red cabbage

Owen is already finding strawberries to eat, and has enjoyed helping me to harvest chamomile flowers from our winter brassica bed. I’ve been really pleased with the mix of plants in the brassica bed. Last autumn, I planted a row of red cabbage and sprouting broccoli with a row of leeks behind them. I put young celery plants in some of the gaps between the brassicas and leeks. I also surounded the brassicas with the following: dill, chamomile, heartsease viola (johnny-jump-up) and cilantro. These companion plants seem to have helped to keep the weeds down. All seem to have done well alongside each other, and I think the effect is pretty. Now, with the brassicas almost ready for harvest, the celery and leeks are just coming into their own and will benefit from the extra space. At one end of the row of brassicas, I planted a patch of swiss chard (silver beet), and at the other end, some lettuces. I also put several calendula plants at either end of the row. I’d certainly like to try this combination (or similar) again next autumn.

Early Spring Garden

Monday, September 28th, 2009

On the 9th of August last year, I wrote a bit about what we were eating from the garden and vowed to look back and compare in one year’s time. Well, I’m a little late in sharing these observations, but here goes.

In early August this year, we were eating:

*Plenty of lettuce! varieties: winter, deer’s tongue, half century
*Loads of dill, cilantro, parsley
*Sprouting broccoli
*Radishes: black spanish
*Swiss chard
*Corn Salad
*Multiplying Spring Onions
*A few carrots (two varieties: white and orange)

Red cabbage, snow peas, broad beans, leeks, celery and turnips were still tantalisingly not quite ready!

We had run out of last year’s onions, but still had lots of garlic stored under the eaves of the house.

Young silverbeet

Overall, the list doesn’t look very different from last year’s. I think the main differences are in quantity. We had less corn salad, collards and yacon compared to last year, but more of everything else — especially salad greens and swiss chard.

Another key difference was in the “not quite ready” list. Last year’s August garden didn’t even inspire such a list. This year, several yummy vegetable treats were only weeks away. I tried sowing snow peas in autumn for an early spring crop, and that has worked very well.

Aims for next year:
Grow bigger crops of winter brassicas: collards, cabbages, broccoli
Grow bigger crops of carrots
Try growing daikon radish and beets as winter crops