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Archive for May, 2007
We are setting about creating a sub-tropical food forest on the sloping western end of the house paddock. We have a long way to go!
Kevin has weed-whacked huge swaths of kikuyu and other weeds from the grassy areas of the house paddock. I have raked all this precious treasure into piles, and have moved it to cover the first part of what we hope will become our much-longed-for food forest. In mulching, we have two main aims:
1) Stifle the growth of kikuyu and other weeds in the mulched area.
2) Add organic matter to improve soil quality and drainage. (The drainage part is very important on our clay soil.)
At the downhill edge of the food forest area, we have already planted two passionfruit vines. These were a Christmas gift from my parents. Dad helped us plant them back in the Summer. They have a nice wooden frame to climb over. I have since started more passionfruit vines from seed. We plan to plant at least one of these in the food forest, so that it can climb up the Australian frangipani that is already growing in the area.
There are a few other trees already established in the food forest area. We plan to use these as nurse trees to provide a bit of shelter for our new transplants. Today, we planted two tropical apricots in what we hope are relatively sheltered positions downslope from established trees. Kevin dug big holes, and we created mounds of lots of organic matter to plant the trees in. We hope that the mounds will help with drainage!
We plan to continue intensive mulching of this area, in order to maintain some control over weeds while we establish the first part of our food forest. We already have various plants and trees ready for planting (both trees and under-story plants), so stay tuned for further developments! We are very excited about this project.
As well as the food-forest plants themselves, we plan to establish a bamboo hedge along the edge of the house paddock — using non-invasive bamboo varieties, of course! In spring, we hope to plant some giant bamboo, as well as a smaller variety. Purposes of the bamboo hedge:
1) To provide us with a supply of poles and stakes of various thicknesses
2) To shelter the food forest and house from wind and chill air coming down the hill
3) To create a weed barrier between the pasture and the food forest
We imagine that the food forest will take shape slowly, as we obtain suitable plants, and they grow to fill the space. This is the very humble beginning!
It seems like time for an update on the state of our vegetable garden. Parts of the veggie garden are still looking very scruffy, with late summer crops dying, and/or going to seed. Other areas are bursting with new Autumn plantings, or offering up long-awaited goodness.
We are having a long, mild autumn here, and are still picking bell peppers, as well as a few last miserable looking tomatoes (they taste fine!). With the changing season, we are now enjoying lots of delicious leeks and beets, as well as greens such as swiss chard, garden cress, and mustard lettuce. Also, we recently harvested the first of our autumn crops of turnips and sugarsnap peas. Yum!
As last season’s collard greens and kale go to seed, it is gratifying to see little collard, broccoli, and red cabbage seedlings thriving in newly mulched beds. We are amazed at the improvement in soil structure in the garden beds after just one growing season. As we replant, we are adding lime and sometimes gypsum, and mulching heavily with dried-out kikuyu to protect the soil and improve the tilth.
Also planted and thriving: more leeks, beets and green onions. Salsify, peas and cilantro.
Big failure: Carrots. We got a good strike on both batches, but all got eaten by mystery pests. I suspect slugs, but Dad says it might have been woodlice. We’d really like some carrots, so will try again with more coffee grounds sprinkled about as a slug deterrent.
Jobs to do: Clear out dying summer crops, and prepare the remaining beds. Put some of our scavenged weed mat around the edges of the newer beds to the north of the house. They are a weedy mess without it! Start onion seed, and more turnips. Plant corn salad and miner’s lettuce for tasty winter salads.
The electric fencing around the top goat paddock is finally hooked up and working. Daphne and Lulu are learning what it means to live with a real fence! This project was completed none too soon, as Daphne had been escaping and had already totally trashed a young loquat tree in the orchard area. I was getting very sick of having to put her back in the goat paddock all the time!
The goats used to stick their necks through the fence as a matter of course, but have quickly learned that this is not a good idea. They do not like electric fences!
Kevin has been testing his ingenuity with the goat fence project. My Dad came over and helped tighten the existing wires of the fence, and roll out the new wires. Kevin devised some home-made insulators made out of old plastic irrigation tubing to stop the electric wires shorting out against the fence posts. These seem to be working very well, and have saved us a lot of money compared to buying ready-made insulators.
Note from Kevin: If you do this, make your insulators longer than I did and strain your wire well.
The goats have been especially playful lately, despite not liking their new fence. Daphne loves to jump up onto the goat house in the top paddock. She capers around up there looking very pleased with herself. Lulu can’t (or won’t) jump up onto the goat house, but waits until Daphne gets down to start jumping at her and bunting. The two of them have mock goat fights, and tear around the paddock like mad creatures, doing twists and leaps and fancy stunts.
We are glad we don’t have to put the wooden A-frame collars on the goats any more when they are in the top paddock. (They haven’t needed to wear them for a while in the lower paddock.) They are surely more comfortable without them, and it was a hassle for us to be taking them on and off all the time! We feed the goats on extra tree clippings (especially any privet that we clear out around the place), and weeds, prunings, and over-grown vegetables from the garden to supplement the forage in their paddocks. With these extra offerings, we hope they don’t suffer too much for having to stay in their paddock. Certainly, this arrangement is going to be much better for the little fruit trees we are hoping to plant.
One of our aims here on the Farmlet is to produce as much of our own food as possible, reducing our expenses and our dependence on outside food sources. We still have a long way to go, but it feels very good to have started working towards this goal.
What have we done so far?
1. So far, our biggest step has been starting the vegetable garden. We now grow most of our own vegetables.
2. Buying cows and goats has been another major step. We are now waiting to get milk from our dear cows (due to calve in a couple of months).
3. We are making an effort to buy from local, organic and/or bulk sources as much as we can.
4. As far as possible, we make our own food from unprocessed whole ingredients. We make our own bread, crackers and snacks, beer* and sodas, yoghurt and kefir, stocks and sauces, and sauerkraut, and avoid pre-processed, packaged foods almost entirely. [* I brew with Coopers— Kevin]
5. We have started to plant fruit and berries, and to plan out orchard and “food forest” areas on our farmlet.
So. . . how much do we actually spend on food? Over the last couple of months, we have been itemising and tracking our expenses in order to find out.
I have come up with a total of NZ$265.75 per month, or NZ$66.44 per week. That comes out to about US$49 per week. I don’t have enough information at the moment to see whether there is a big seasonal difference in our spending. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the totals through winter and early spring when our supply of home-grown vegetables will be running low. Of course, by then we will (hopefully!) not be buying milk any more, so our overall spending might not change much.
Recently, I read a Path to Freedom post on this same topic that quotes some statistics from the US Department of Labor on the average American food budget in 2005. I don’t have comparable statistics for New Zealand, but we think these US figures provide an interesting point of comparison.
1 person in the family, one wage earner: $68 a week
2+ persons in the family, one wage earner: $121 a week
2+ persons in the family, 2 wage earners: $144 a week
2+ persons in the family, 3+ wage earners: $184 a week
Path to Freedom (who grow a lot of their own food, and are committed to buying from local sources as much as possible) add that their own expenses are as follows:
4 persons in the PTF family (+ 1 volunteer), 4+(?) wage earners: $100-$125 a week (winter) & $60-$80 (summer)
Of course, while reducing expenses on food is a worthwhile goal, it is also a simplistic one. We try to reduce costs by buying in bulk, and buying seasonally, but it also makes sense to spend more money on goods that are local, organic, and higher quality. Our food costs are higher due to certain choices we make regarding source and quality.
What steps are we planning to take in the future, in order to increase our food independence?
1. As it is, we are growing most of our own potatoes. We have saved more seed potatoes for next season, and hope to expand our potato beds to grow all the potatoes we need. Potatoes are an important and easy-to-grow staple for us.
2. Work on growing more garlic and some large beds of onions. Now that our soil is more workable, we also hope to begin growing more root vegetables, such as sweet potato, carrots, and Jerusalem artichoke. Next year, we plan to grow a larger quantity of long-keeping winter squash.
3. Start growing some maize to grind into corn meal. Try growing some grain amaranth — with adequate protection from birds! (Corn and amaranth seem to be the grains most likely to yield successfully in this bio-region — and can be processed relatively easily at home on a small scale for human consumption.) We long to make polenta and tamales from home-grown corn!
4. Continue to plant fruit, berries and nuts, so that in time we will be producing all the fruit we need. Most high-calorie tree crops such as nuts and avocados take a while to start producing, so we are trying to get some started as soon as we can. We are dreaming of food forests!
5. Milk our own cows (nearly there!) and goats. We already make some of our own dairy products from scratch. Once we are milking the cows, we hope to make all our butter, and hopefully cheese, as well as yoghurt and kefir.
6. Get some chickens to raise for eggs and meat.
7. Once our animals produce offspring, we will be able to start fattening some for meat. We look forward to the good taste and savings of home-grown beef steak and goat curry.
8. Plant more olives, in hopes of producing enough to press for oil at the local olive oil press.