Who said winter was a quiet time on the farm. I have to say we’ve never been busier, preparing, planting and more.
Forest Garden Prep
With many of the trees around the house and old tennis court burned by the bushfire, we set about removing them. We had to use large machinery in many instances, but suffice to say the remaining soil was fairly much hydrophobic with a clay base.
Clearing the area
After clearing we determined that there were three areas near the house ripe for forest gardens and set about preparing them in three different ways — removing dead things and prepping the planting area, with design, layout and planting out.
Beds one and two were heavily mulched with old lucerne hay and then watered.
In beds three and four we used pigs to dig the ground after ripping it with a bulldozer. They were provided lucerne hay bedding which then provided mulch and fertiliser. Green manure was put down at the time of planting.
The larger area to the north we used a rotary hoe and then put down green manure.
With the forest garden plan complete, we set about laying out where each tree was to go. Holes were dug, gypsum, blood and bone and well-rotted compost were added. Trees were placed, planted, watered and tree guards put up.
Another round of green manure plus intermixed plantings of acacias serve to provide the garden with nutrients, and then the planting of understorey plants commenced.
The area was planted with a total of 120 fruit trees, primarily cider apples, but also a Feijoa hedge, Olive hedge, nectarines, peaches, figs and more….
We welcomed our two little piggies as 10-week olds and set them to work right away! They were moved approximately every three days, grazing on the grass with supplementary organic feed, acorns collected from Canberra, fallen apples and non-meat kitchen scraps.
Piggie scratches were the highlight of their day and they knew when their regular evening meal was due. The little pigs were a highlight for many visitors, climbing in to give them a good scratch. The dogs were entertained and kept them company too.
During the winter we also had the opportunity to visit a nearby farm for a pig slaughtering. After penning and slaughtering them, we set about getting the hot water ready to dip them and then scrape the hair off. We then took their heads off, gutted them and wrapped them in a cooler box to take to the butcher. Suffice to say there are easier ways to do this than what we attempted with a fire and hot boiling water in amongst slippery pig skins.
Boiling the water
Winter is a great time for open fires, which we enjoyed a lot, especially when we had company. We took the opportunity to hone our camp cooking skills in both small and large camp ovens as well as cooking root vegetables directly in the fire.
A great time was had by all.
The January bushfire presented us with a great deal of challenges in terms of pasture and its utilisation. With weaner cattle having arrived in late Autumn, we set about repairing fences in front of them as we moved them regularly based on our Holistic Grazing plan. Thank heavens for Phil the fencer!
The other two activities involved pasture renovation, namely Yeoman’s plowing to open up the soil and get air and moisture in. Our main challenge for this was getting the plow points hard faced so they didn’t simply wear away.
The difference from the Yeoman’s plowing was amazing, especially after some good rain. Having started the season with virtually no pasture due to the fire we managed to retain ground coverage which was great.
Our soil analysis showed a low pH and we ordered in some rock phosphate to spread — despite the windy winter we managed to get it out to all paddocks before most of the rain came.
Loading Rock Phosphate
With 63 weaners and six sheep on our grazing plan we were hopeful to get through the winter, but supplementary fed them with high quality lucerne hay deposited onto the areas in paddocks with little or no ground cover – results to be seen but it’s looking good.
After investigating meat poultry breeds, we set about sourcing either adults, fertilised eggs or day-olds to start our breeding stock. We had selected Light Sussex, Buff Sussex and, on the duck front, Pekin and Rouen.
Day old chicks
Maybe it’s better to simply take what’s available rather than determine which breeds you want in advance, as it then proved quite difficult to source these breeds. We ordered a few dozen eggs from Western Australia for the chicks and ducks from Queensland as well as sourcing some more Light Sussex and Rouen duck eggs locally.
Our trusty incubator has been working overtime, and thankfully is self-turning, so it’s only the water and temperature which we need to keep an eye on until hatching begins (21 days for chickens, 28 days for ducks). We’ve successfully hatched 18 chicks and 5 ducks to date.
After hatching we leave them in the incubator for 24 hours or until they are ‘fluffy’ and then put them into a brooder box fashioned from an old round trough with a light to keep them warm (especially in winter). This is great for the chicks, but a bit messy with the ducks.
The chicks were then moved outdoors into a small moveable pen on the lawn that kept them warm and within eyesight. The ducks we put in the backyard after planting green manure, and made a pond from an old kids paddling pool and a makeshift shelter until they grow feathers and can venture further afield. The backyard is fox proof and we also have dogs on the property.
Suffice to say we are pleased as punch, at 16 weeks the Light Sussex look absolutely AMAZING and at 12 weeks so do the Buff. The ducks are happy in their pond and we can’t wait until they are all old enough to start laying themselves!
12 week old Light Sussex
Winter was an absolute whirlwind of tree planting! We collected Acorns in the Autumn and planted those along the driveway, we planted casuarina windbreaks along the eastern boundary and all the fruit trees in the forest garden — all of these being well planted with gypsum, blood and bone, compost, mulch, and then watered and tree guards supplied.
All in all throughout the winter we planted around 500 trees with help from the kids and neighbours!
In the kitchen
What is permaculture without doing something with the produce…. We had a bumper crop of rosehips which we turned into syrup and used as cordial, we are still munching on lettuce which the kids love picking from the garden… The spinach and French breakfast radishes have been going great all through the winter – but our favourite has to be the black radish!
These were supplemented by oregano, thyme, mint and tarragon – still the beginnings of our herb garden….
Want to find out more about Caroola Farm, or join us in our endeavours, we are now registered WWOOF hosts, will be hosting our first PDC in March 2014 and an internship combined with other nearby permaculture Farms from March to May 2014.