Monday, January 31, 2011

The mulcher (I love mulch!)

We bought the mulcher when we moved to our new property and had hundreds of small wattle trees (weeds) to cut down to allow better pasture to grow for our cattle.  With all the trees felled we didn’t want to light a huge fire and decided that mulching would be a better option.  We bought a large, petrol-motor powered mulcher off ebay and waited impatiently for it to arrive (we always worry with ebay that it won't turn up at all!).

We bought the mulcher on ebay
It is great fun making mulch and so good for the garden!  Mulch helps the soil to retain water and keeps the plant’s roots cool.  As it breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.  It also keeps weeds down.  I couldn't garden without mulch, as the clay soil here would just dry up and go as hard as concrete, so the more mulch we can pile on, the better!

Before we had the mulcher, we used to buy mulch hay from a local farmer for $10/round bale.  This also did a good job, but we can't get it anymore.  We have also used sugar-cane mulch and wood shavings, but these become very expensive options and we needed something we could make ourselves to keep the cost down.  As we have such a good supply of saplings still, the mulcher should keep us going for a while yet!


Last weekend we decided to do a final tidy up of the front paddock and cut down all the remaining saplings and loaded them onto the car trailer.  We then spent about 4 hours mulching.  My husband cuts the branches into suitable sizes and I push them through the mulcher.  We had a very nice pile of mulch by the end of it, which I spread around the outside of the vege garden and on the internal paths.


For tidying up AND keeping a nice supply of  mulch, the mulcher has been the perfect solution, so if you have plenty of unwanted saplings, I absolutely recommend buying or hiring mulcher. 

BEFORE MULCHING: There's a car trailer under that pile!

AFTER MULCHING: The pile of mulch ready for the garden
Spreading the mulch on the garden - you can never have too much mulch!

More on mulch here and here.

Do you use mulch?  What kind do you use?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chicks are hatching.....

In the end, our new incubator has not lived up to expectations, with only 3 chicks hatched out of 48 eggs.  We suspect a combination of old roosters/hens, wet and not so fresh eggs and getting used to the new incubator (the instructions are in badly translated Chinese-English, so some parts we had to guess!).  Anyway, we will be putting in another batch of eggs in the next couple of weeks to try again, so rather than dwell on our lack of success, I’d like to share some observations of the chicks so far.   

eight acres: hatching chicks
First chick out!
The chicks were each moved from the incubator and into the brooder box about a day after they hatched, so that they could start eating and drinking.  The brooder box is a wooden box with a light bulb in it to keep the temperature around 38°C (unfortunately we can’t buy the old-style light bulbs any more and will have to buy a proper heat bulb soon when our supply of the old ones runs out).  In the box we put a small feeder full of “chicken raiser” crumbles and a small water dispenser.  We don’t know yet if they are hens of roosters, that should be apparent in a couple of weeks when they have more feathers (we’ve never mastered the method of looking at their behinds, but here's how you can work it out when they're older).
First chick into the brooder box and eating already.
It always amazes me how feisty and bold the chicks are when they first hatch, considering how tiny they are, they are certainly not helpless babies.  They are very attentive and quick to learn when we show them how to eat by tapping on crumbles on the floor of their box.  You can see them looking at your finger and copying the action.  One chick hatched a few days before the others and I was worried about putting the smaller chicks in the box in case they were picked on.  In fact the opposite was the case, with the larger chick scared in the corner of the box and the smaller two pecking him at first until they settled down and are now getting on ok.   The most alarming aspect of the chicks is their habit of falling asleep anywhere in their box and looking as if they have dropped dead!    

Sleeping chicks often look like they've just dropped dead!
We had a power cut for 10 minutes while the chicks were hatching and my husband and I ran around putting blankets on the incubator to try to keep them warm.  This has made us realise how important electricity is to keeping all our systems running and we will be looking at securing our electricity independence as we frequently have cuts for several hours during the summer storm season.  This will start with a generator and one day extend to something more sophisticated. 

I’ll keep updating the progress of the chicks.  We hope to have some roosters so that we can have roast chicken again (we hate buying the supermarket ones, just don’t trust the conditions they’ve been raised/processed in) and I’ll do a blog on how to dress a rooster.  And maybe also some decent pullets to replace some of our older hens.   Any advice/thoughts about chicks, hatching and incubating?   

Read more about what we've learnt about incubating chicken eggs here.


By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Monday, January 17, 2011

My top five veges for beginner gardeners

I have only been gardening for about 3 years, but I have tried growing quite a few different veges and found some easier and more rewarding that others.  This is a list of my top 5 favourites for beginners in a sub-tropical climate:

Silver beet - surprisingly tasty

1. Silver Beet
This is a surprising one, as I never ate it before I had a garden, but it was the thing I missed the most when we first moved house and I had no garden.  Once established, silver beet keeps going for months (in this climate anyway).  We usually have about 6 mature plants in the garden at a time, which provides a couple of leaves for our dinner each night and extra as a treat for the chickens.  Even when veges in the supermarket are between seasons and expensive, we can always top up a meal with a few leaves of silver beet.




This cherry tomato is growing
out of my compost bin

2. Cherry Tomatoes
While the large tomatoes have proven to be delicate, disease-prone and attacked by fruit fly, the little cherry tomatoes have had no such trouble.  They just keep going no matter what!  In the last garden we had one large rambling plant that I tried to contain in a circle of mesh, but it was always escaping.  Now I have a small, well-controlled plant in a pot and get heaps of tiny tomatoes from it all year.  The extras go into the freezer whole and get thrown into stews and pasta sauces.  In the last garden I had cherry tomatoes coming up all around the garden from the rotten fruit that I didn't get a chance to pick, so they are very easy to cultivate.


Poor Man's Beans can grow up to 10cm long if you don't find them in time!
Poor Man's Beans are easy to grow and produce lots of beans.
3. Poor Man's Beans (Dolichos Lablab)
I don't think you can even buy this one in the shops.  Its a large climbing bean that seems to keep growing for years, dying back in winter and returning in spring.  Mine is currently covered in beans.  The string beans growing next to the Poor Man's are in poor condition this year, destroyed by slugs, but the Poor Man's seems more hardy.  The current plant was grown from seeds saved from the last garden, so its easy to cultivate too.  Between the beans and the sliver beet, we always have something green for dinner!

Spring onions are planted between other veges,
the lettuce is the in background (starting to seed)
4. Spring Onions
I have tried and failed to grow underground onions, however I have never had any trouble with spring onions.  We have them in the garden all year and pick as needed.  When they get big they grow seed heads, which I just cut off when they are ready and the onion is still ok to eat later.  The next crop is then easily grown from this seed, so you have onions forever!

5 Cos-type Lettuce
My mother-in-law gave me some lettuce seeds for our first garden, so I don't even know exactly what type they are, but they are perfectly suited to hot and humid conditions.  They are a non-hearting Cos-type lettuce. The best part is that the seedlings some up within a couple of days of planting and you literally get hundreds in a pot, so they are very easy to cultivate and there's plenty for the chickens too, this is very encouraging for the beginner!  They go to seed after a while, but that's just more seed for the next crop.

Any suggestions for other fail-save crops for beginners?  The ones I have chosen are disease resistant, easy to cultivate and cheap as you can save seeds from each crop (except my silver beet has never gone to seed!).

More on seed-saving here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Update on the floods in our area

You may have heard about the flooding in Queensland this summer.  We are very lucky that creeks here go down quickly, with minimal damage, however many roads are currently closed and we are isolated in all directions at the moment.  This means that supplies are not getting through, and Nanango and Kingaroy have all but run out for fuel, milk, bread and fresh veges.

video
The river at the back of our property (its normally a dry creek bed!)

This is a timely reminder of the foolishness of moving all distribution centres to Brisbane.  We currently rely on Brisbane for supplies of all food and fuel.  While its difficult to be self-sufficient in fuel, it is ridiculous that dairy farmers around Queensland are disposing of milk as they can't get it to Brisbane for processing.  The regional milk processing plants should never have been closed.  This would have kept jobs in regional areas and made us less dependent on Brisbane for supplies.  Its equally ridiculous that fruit and veges are rotting in cool-stores in north Queensland as they can't be transported to Brisbane for distribution.  Even in vegetable growing regions it is often difficult to get fresh vegetables as they all go to Brisbane first and then come back to the regions!  I am so glad right now that we have our own garden and won't have to survive on frozen and canned veges alone until the roads are re-opened.  We also have plenty of eggs and meat.

Even though we are not directly affected by flooding, the effects of isolation are just as difficult here as other parts of Queensland, highlighting the need for regions to be more self-sufficient and not rely on Brisbane for food.

Were you flooded in summer 2010/11?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Choosing an incubator

We have had an incubator for a while now, with mixed success.  At first we did well, but more recently we only managed to hatch one little chick from 24 eggs, and he didn't survive (they find it hard if there's only one), so we decided it was time to upgrade.


The two problems with the old incubator was that it was manual turn, so we had to remember to turn the eggs and even though you're supposed to turn them several times a day, when we're at work it would only get done twice a day (if we remembered).  The other problem was the humidity.  Correct humidity levels are critical for successful hatching, but we didn't have any method of measuring humidity, so we were only guessing at how much water was required to maintain the humidity.


As we want to raise some more chickens, we decided to buy a new incubator.  This one has automatic turn AND has a humidity sensor, so we hope this will help us hatch more successfully.  We've loaded it up with all the eggs from the chickens while we were away for Christmas and will share with you the progress of the hatching and rearing process.

New incubator with humidity sensor and auto-turn
For those not familiar with the incubation process, all we do is collect fertile eggs and keep them in an egg carton until we have enough to fill the incubator (in this case its 48 eggs) as its best if they all hatch together.  As we collect the eggs we mark them with the date and the rooster so we can start to find out which roosters are fertile.  When we have enough eggs we load up the incubator, put some water in the tray at the bottom (to create humidity) and turn it on.  This incubator does the rest for us.  With our previous incubator we had to make sure that the temperature was set at 38 degC and turn the eggs 2-3 times a day.  After 21 days or so, we should start to see the chicks hatching, then we can move them into a brooder box with a light bulb to keep them warm enough.

Eggs in the incubator (the turner is at the back)
Read more about what we've learnt about incubating chicken eggs here.  Do you have any tips to share?



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


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