Monday, February 28, 2011

March 2011 - farm update

Its that time of year where everything is growing so fast, I need to give regular updates or I'll get behind!

First the zucchinis are still going, but suffering from blossom end rot, so I've topped them up with lots of gypsum to keep their calcium levels high.  I've also got some lovely little button squash growing, which are great if you just like a small amount of zucchini in your dinner!

little button squash are great if you can't finish an entire zucchini!

The zuchinni patch (+squashes)

My tomatoes have been growing strongly and producing lots of green tomatoes that are taking FOREVER to ripen!  I noticed that one is finally turning red, so I can't wait to make tomato soup!  I have to admit I'm a bit relaxed with the organic gardening when it comes to tomatoes.  I let them go until I see a grub and then I shower them with tomato dust (very non-organic!) because I can't stand to see all my hardwork wasted.  But then I just leave it and see if any more grubs appear, so they've only have one dose this season and I wash them VERY carefully before eating.  The cherry tomato keeps producing fruit with no bug problems, so it is the one to go for if you're strict on organic gardening!  Note that I now use neem oil instead.

Eight strong tomatoes planted in November (I think they're Ox Heart)
Plenty of green tomatoes......
Finally a red one!!
The cherry tomato keeps producing, with no bug worries.
 The poor man's beans is still producing more beans that we can eat!  I've filled a container of cut beans in the freezer and now I'm giving them away to neighbours in exchange for goat's cheese (great exchange aye!).  


The poor man's beans produce more that we can eat!
I'm very excited that my mini capsicum is FINALLY fruiting after a year in the garden!  This is the capsicum equivalent of cherry tomatoes.  When we grew big capsicums they got stung by fruit flies, but not the mini capsicums.  When these get going we should have plenty of capsicums and I store any extras in the freezer to throw into casseroles.


Mini capsicums are the capsicum equivalent of cherry tomatoes.
The last hatch of baby chicks have moved outside, they are fully feathered and the two cockerels look like mini foghorm leghorns!  They are a bit shy, so it was hard to get a good photo of them.

The baby chickens have move outside
And just in time for the next hatch to move into the brooder, we doubled our hatch rate, with 7 out of 48 this time (with a few turkey eggs still to hatch as they take 7 days longer).  They are the cutest before they start getting feathers.  Five of them are leghorns, so we will have to do one more run with the incubator to try and hatch more Rhode Island Reds to replace some of our older hens.

The next clutch of 7 chicks has hatched.
And finally the crazy turkeys!  We have two gobblers and two hens  The gobblers have recently become very aggressive (probably because their hens are now laying eggs), so its time to catch one to eat, but we're a little scared, they are HUGE!  The eggs taste like chicken eggs and are a little larger, they are fertile already, so we should have some more turkeys soon.  They call out to every noise they hear, the steers, the roosters, the dog barking, the whipper snipper starting etc!!  I tried them free range, but they took so long to figure out how to get out of the door of their cage, I was worried they would never get home.  They are also capable of flying over fences, and do so when frightened, which happens easily, so I don't trust them free range.  Also they are too aggressive now.


We were a little worried about Bruce last week as he was sick.  It turns out he had Three Day sickness, which is like a severe man-flu.  He was drooling and couldn't get up, we had to bring him food and water and tell him that he'd be ok.  A few days later he was up and eating again.  What a sook!  Now we just have to wait a few months and he's ready to eat :)

How was your month?  What are you planning for next month?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Compost and weed tea

In my short gardening experience I have discovered that organic matter is the most important aspect of soil for successful vege gardening.  Organic matter provides nutrients and improves soil structure.  In my garden, the main source of organic matter is the mulch (also used to retain moisture and keep the roots cool) and fresh manure for our steers (thanks boys!).  I also keep a compost bin for all vege and garden scraps.


Our compost bin and weed/manure tea drum, the tomato is an added bonus!
I have kept a compost bin in the past when living in the city, and it was never very successful, so I was little nervous about starting one for the garden, but it is working well so far.  I think the mistake I made in the past was not having the right ratio of wet/dry matter.  I just chucked in all scraps and grass clippings and the compost just went a bit slimy and didn’t ferment properly.  Now that I have access to some compost activators (micro-organisms and nutrients that are added to a compost pile to speed up the breakdown of fruit and vegetable scraps) and a wider range of compostable material, it seems to be working better.  The compost activators include comfrey and manure, although this website also recommends urine!  I throw in all scraps and garden cuttings, and grass clippings/hay if the compost is looking low.  I put in manure and comfrey every couple of weeks.  I put in a bucket of water or two if its looking too dry (or if I see a mouse living in there!).

I purchased a cheap commercial compost bin due to laziness, but you can build something fairly cheaply.  At our last property we used a 44 gallon drum with both ends cut off.  You could just tip it over a bit to get the mature compost out of the bottom.   

My other source of nutrients for the garden is “weed tea”/”manure tea” (for a good description see here).  We have a 44 gallon drum with tap welded near the top (thanks to my clever husband).  I keep the drum filled with water and occasionally top it up with nutrient rich goddies like manure, comfrey leaves and any other weeds with deep tap roots, like thistle, that I pull out from the garden or paddocks.  Every few weeks I pour out some tea into my watering can and tip it over the garden.  Its supposed to be diluted, but I don’t bother unless it looks really strong.  The tea is very rich in nitrogen, so I put it mainly on the leafy veges, like silver beet and lettuce and seedlings that I want to get a bit bigger and stronger before they flower.  I avoid putting it on flowering or root veges, as they need more potassium than nitrogen to produce fruit and will get too leafy if they have the tea.  You really only need a bag of manure every few months, so if you don’t have access to animals of your own, you can probably buy some to get you started and it won't work out too expensive.  You can also just make weed tea instead with lots of weeds (mine grow better than my veges, so I always have a good supply).

Do you use compost?  weed tea?  Any advice?

More about my worm farm here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feb 2011 - farm update

The chicks have reached a difficult stage!  They're not really cute any more, they have too many feathers, but not enough feathers to live outside yet.  They are messy, and eating and drinking heaps!  We have 40 more eggs in the incubator, so we hope to have more success with this next batch.

The chicks aren't so cute any more!
My garden is looking very green after all the rain and warm weather.  I am having to weed and trim daily to keep up.  I'm hoping to get a decent crop of tomatoes, and I've seen two passionfruit flowers, so maybe I will get some fruit this season.
The garden is green, but the weeds grow as well as the veges!
Does anyone know what this insect is?  Its not very clear in the photo, but I think they are some kind of bee.  They can't possibly be a wasp as they live near the garden and haven't tried to attack me yet!  Any ideas?

Can anyone identify this insect?
I've transplanted this comfrey from a pot into the garden, and its taken off!   I read in Organic Gardener magazine to plant the comfrey in a low point of the garden so that it can accumulate nutrients.  It is growing lovely large leaves for my compost and weed tea.  


How is your farm going?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Home butcher vs meatworks


We have had two of our steers killed now, one at home and one at the meatworks. The first, Trevor, was bottle-raised by me and my husband, so we didn’t feel ready to have him killed at home.  Luckily our neighbours were planning to take one of their animals to our local abattoir, so they offered to take our steer if we picked up the meat a week later.  They took Trevor away on the Thursday and the meat was ready to pick up from the butcher the following Friday.  The butcher called us before he started working on our meat and asked which cuts we wanted.  We were pretty happy with the result, especially as we didn’t really know what to expect, although the sausages were a little fattier than we would have liked.
Little Trevor was bottle fed, so we didn't want to see him killed on our property.
The main disadvantage of the meatworks option is that you don’t know for sure that you are getting your own animal back when you pick up the meat.  It could be any tough old cow that turned up on the same day.  I don’t think we had that problem, as the meat was lovely and tender, but it is a risk.  The other problem is that you need to have a suitable loading ramp and vehicle to move the animal AND all the appropriate paperwork (waybill etc).  We built a loading ramp from scrap metal (my husband is a welder by trade, so he did most of the work, I just pass the tools! See other things that he's made here) and our neighbour provided the truck.
Trevor and Murray
The main advantage of using the meatworks is that you don’t have to deal with any of the waste, as it all goes offsite (but then you also miss out on that valuable fertiliser).  And, of course, you don’t have to watch your steer get shot, which can be traumatic if you raised him from a young animal.


For our second steer, Murray, we had moved to the South Burnett and had no suitable meatworks close by, so we decided to try a home butcher.  The butcher came to our house on a Friday afternoon, killed the steer and hung him in a mobile cool room.  The butcher came back on the Monday morning (at 6am, and it was a FREEZING June day) and started to do his work.  This meant that we had more control over the process as we could request the thickness of steaks and size of roasts as the butcher worked.  We tried to control the amount of fat in the sausages, but somehow they still ended up too fatty!

My clever husband built a cattle ramp from scrap metal
so that we could load Trevor onto a truck.
The disadvantage of using a home butcher method is that you have to have a suitable area on your property for killing the animal and for the butcher to work.  You also get left with all the guts, the head and the hide.  We had to dig a massive hole for the guts; other people burn the waste, but we wanted to use it to improve our soil.  We also attempted to tan the hide, which is another story altogether

In future we will be using the home butcher again, but we are hoping to negotiate access to the mobile cool room for longer this time, to get more tender meat, as we’re not sure that it was hung long enough this time.  We will also try to get nicer sausages! 

Have you used a home butcher?  What did you think?

More on home butchering here.

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