Saturday, August 29, 2020

Corona garden renovations and chicken partnerships

People want nice chickens going bokbok in the backyard but find they are ravenous destroyers.

The chickens often don't get enough room so they end up in a wasteland where they have eaten everything and just have straw shoveled in or even worse live on concrete and get poop shoveled out.

For various reasons I had this classic of garden design to work with over the corona lockdown. A permaculture garden design wants to examine the aspects involved. What they produce and require:

  • Chickens eat green stuff and bugs.
  • Chickens lay eggs. They come from a jungle and want nice sheltered spots to hang out in.
  • Chickens scratch and poop. They kick straw behind them.
  • There may be a lot of predators around. Cats, foxes, hawks. Other birds come in and nick their food.
  • Woody plants about 2 years can get big enough to survive chicken attentions.

Anything else, such as annual grasses, annual vege gardens and bird feeds, needs chicken proof fencing. So basically it all comes down to fence sections off so you can rotate the chickens in different areas and stack over time. Giving the plants time to regenerate and grow. These can be for human annual veges or primarily for the chickens, grains and greens. The chickens in the end will have less space, but the space they have will be much more alive and chickeny nice to live in. A chicken jungle.

In the non fenced sections the chickens have deep litter straw to kick around and poop in and they will gradually kick it into the fenced growing areas. or at least making it near and easy for humans to mulch or compost for later addition to productive gardens.

Was luckily able to make most with various material already at hand. In non corona era would probably go buy-swap-sell or get a few more bits from the hardware store, I'd like a few more star-pickets.
Establishing perennials to give shelter. These need short term, 2 year or so, fenced areas to grow. Tough, chicken medicine and ornamental plants such as salvia, lavender and wormwood, mulberry.

This example is a pretty blue salvia taken from a cutting at a friends place. Hopefully it'll get big enough to remove the fence in time and the chickens can sit under it. Will probably need rocks directly around the base to protect the roots from scratchy attention.
It is growing in used cat litter made from organic scrap wood pellets. As it already has high nitrogen cat wee in it it shouldn't cause nitrogen drawdown and just seems to act as a good top level mulch. The dry material even seeming to reduce slugs.

The perennial basil is very tough and a fast grower but given time the chickens can even eat this super tough plant down. It never grows a woody trunk. It needs a few sheltered areas to regrow from. This mesh fence (old shelves?) might be long term and grown through.

The chickens are also tractored a few at a the time out in the front lawn. Placed in small portable cages and moved to a fresh grass spot daily. They dig up the runner grass so we can add more productive gardens later.

Still a few years to see it come to shape. Once can remove fencing and let the chickens free range in a chicken jungle optimised for their comfort. The annuals veges and other chicken forage plants can be still easily fenced with rotating 6 month time spans until next configuration. Rotating between vege garden, chicken clean out, growing new baby plants, chicken food etc
This season the chickens will be starting to get to the annual plants grown specifically for them to nibble as it grows through the mesh.


Here is how the main area looked in summer. All working nicely.
Even the most ravenous chickens would have trouble wiping that out.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

I like seeing my plan work in a beautiful chaos

The garden is really working very well. Far from perfect. Rabbits eat things and horses knock down fences and step on things and poo all over and pipes fall out.

But looking around the ecosystem is thickening up nicely. The trees are staying alive with the hopping predators even with a bit of bark damage. A lot of the grafts are still intact. The ground covers are getting established. There is food all around, lettuce, mints, spinach, sorrel. The cactus firebreak gardens getting bigger and self sufficient.
Native pioneer trees like spiky moses acacia and grevillea are coming along behind their anti horse and rabbit fencing.

There are the little native rats that dig holes everywhere. I was worried but now I don't think they're a concern at all. they dig small burrow concerning and messily close to my plants but I don't see damage. they just seem to be hiding. I hope they don't end up eating all my fruit trees roots systems or something.

A lot of birds. The wrens that have always been here, and hawks. If anything more than before the fires. The hawthorn recovered well, more died than I expected to the fire in the end, but still plenty to provide spiky cover to the beautiful little birds.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A high fantasy themed nature retreat.

The Garden has had a high fantasy theme for a while really.

The Hobbit Hole
The Elf House
The Enchanted Woods
The Faerie Field
The Goblin Field

As the garden is now in quite reasonable state and longer term pans need to be considered. The basic low maintenance comfy home part is well on the way. So what is long term? Herb wholesales? Workshops? Affordable housing, tiny homes, a caravan park? Artists retreat and cabins? Each will have planning and regulatory requirements in time.

A high fantasy themed nature retreat, seems a good vision for it.

Charged garden tours on specific days.
include epic quests and workshops.
needs toilets and other facilities

selling herbs. retail. esp direct to local naturopaths and herbalists.

building up for the cabins for arts retreat.

rent out quarry as a venue

Once have a few go for caravan park type licence. and affordable housing. tiny house parking or stay in cabins.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Water design for version 2

In ways the new version of the gardens design is not as good as V1. V1 of my gardens was basically all designed about the winter water catchment and its in-soil flows over the year. But now the Zone 0, house and so Zone 1, main gardens of Version 2 is up on the hill with far worse natural water capture into the gardens. So it is a lot drier. V1 I barely had to water, and the new medicial garden area that V1 has evolved into, still barely needs water. Now this year hot season I have specific tanks for the zone 1 and 2 garden areas and am watering from there by hand and as I do it I'm thinking about how to automate it. Mini swales and trenches, pavers as hard surface captures, mini hugelculture piles. plus actual automation with gravity fed hoses and pumps and computers if I need it. But I enjoy the little microearthworks. Hopefully I'll get some photos to add to this blog later. Water flows down hill everything flows (ha) from that. So my main gardens are up on a hill now. Water flows from the farms on the mild uphill slope to the north, down across the ridge, past my house area, down the hill to either the quarry formed transient wetlands or down to one of the flood plains and to the creek.

So I need to capture and slow it on the way. I have minimal larger scale earthworks so its is mostly micro scale. ie earthworks per garden, per terrace or even per plant.

Hugelkultur and berms.

This is building up downhill of the plant. Rocks or old branches or building up the soil. I just build more and more over time. I am not particularly doing a hugelkulture where it is focused on compost for the soil but over time in effect it's the same thing. I'm mainly considering just directing the water, where I want it, ie the root system of the plant uphill. It's a tiny dam.
This improves with time and focus and materials but anything starts it. it marks the area, it starts to capture wind blown junk or soil.

Hard paving

Water will flow past a little rock or a stick. It won't flow past a concrete paver. still might flow under. But with manufactured products, pavers, tiles, concrete you have water impermeable material that can placed where you like. They often even have built in channels.
Roof tiles, pavers, concrete edging, big rocks. These give you lots of control of the flow.
plus they're thermal mass.

Water infiltration swales.

What's more more permaculture than swales. Compost? Everyone loves swales, but they don't need to be big. They just run perpendicular to the slope to slow water and make it enter the soil instead of running over the top.


Stick it all together and do a big bit of slope and you get terraces.
My main real terraced bits are the orchard since that is on a slope.
But all the gardens have some level of it.

Ollas, ponds and other water storage

Ollas are ceramics pots buried to slowly let the water out. These help a lot when you hand water.

Hoses and gravity feed

Right now I just have IBCs up the top of my block that gravity feed down through an attachment to normal garden hoses that I hand water the zone 1 beds.


Pumps are cool things. Pressure control. but I have to say one of the hardest peices of technology to deal with. Priming and shears and kinks in hoses and rats eating cables.


Well if you have pumps and power you may as well add a processor and some brains. You've done the hard bit.
So I could add sensors for water in the soil. temperature.
I'm most likely first just to drive it off how much water and power is spare. Checking batteries, solar pickup and levels of water supply ponds.
Dripping at best time of day so infiltrates, probably just before dawn.
So lots of neat stuff. but really none strikes as super urgent.
The main thing that would be useful is so don't need to be around on hot days.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Fire and permaculture design

The friggin humongous bush-fires continue in NSW right now.
Some things I see in some permaculture forums are pretty ikky. Some are great.
and permaculture does have a lot to say about fire and landscape design.

The project we did in 2011 at Djungbung was about improving fire resistance of a small town.
Holmgren has written many papers on fire resistance.

But I saw someone say 'if you are worried about fire you don't understand permaculture'
if you aren't worried about fire you aren't living in Australia.

V1.0 of my garden was pretty well designed for fire.

Fire kicked its ass. Ash from corner to corner.

V1.0 was far from fully implemented. Permy design takes time. You don't get multi story tall windblocking, ember resistant trees sheltering your living areas in a few years of growth.

Actually the center of my main living area was untouched. Remember the cardboard box? Still I'm sure I would have died if I stood next to the box.

Yet my design did recover fairly well. Steel, stone often can do exactly the same job. Many plants reshoot from the roots.

I think any design in Australia, especially in a rural area, pretty much has to assume it will be affected by fire sooner or later. possibly multiple times. Not as if I feel the power poles are any safer.
So you can't design on in 20 years these trees will make me resistant. but perhaps these trees will regrow to act as a windblock within 2 years. So my minimum fire cycle time is about 3 years.

Much as permaculture is about perennials. I'm thinking a lot more about annuals and their role.
And grasses. I've been a bit of a permy snob about grass, its just a thing you get rid of.
Still far from settled my thinking on grass and how to use, but the ideas are certainly evolving.
Grass stores carbon in the soil better than Dicotes. It usually expects to be eaten, or burnt.

So V2 of the garden just having gone through a burst of hots days has handled it really well. Ground is well covered. mostly by leaves, but mulch too. grasses and animals working well. wind blocks ok. water ok, but definitely can be better. Thinking more about pumps and control systems. Better leaky weirs and things I'll increasingly implement but at my scale the artificial systems, pipes and pumps and drippers and timers are probably more efficient and reliable.

I mean, fire would still kill all that. but design for increasing dryness and more fire is related if not the same.

V2 when fully implemented will be way fire tougher than V1.
Much wider shelter belts. better understanding of windflows. More water. Much, much thicker walls.
But it still takes time. In maybe 2 years I'd consider stay and defend. but right now its certainly still a scary summer.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Cow poop makes grass. Grass stores carbon.

With the Cobden Spring festival, I've been thinking about dairy farming and sustainablity.
Farmers are nearly all very true conservationists and care about the land. But they get yelled at by green types too much.
Yet as a Green-type I thinking dairy farming in Australia is, or at the least can easily be, a good thing for the environment. From carbon capture to bio-diversity and wildlife corridors.

Cow poop makes grass.
Grass stores carbon.
Standard practice, grass fed rotational grazing means more grass is created.
Holistic grazing is grazing practice specifically around improving soil quality. Maximising grass growth of perennial grasses. Often it ends up increasing the lands animal carrying capacity and acts as a carbon sink, storing more carbon in the increased grass growth fed from cow poop, easily more than offsetting that caused by cow farts.

Feedlots are an environmental abomination. They create pollution, disease and waste.
This is what most cows are terrible for the environment stats come from.
They are the sorts of places I would cheer vegans and XR protesting at. Luckily they are quite rare in Victoria.

And nearly all farms nowdays are big into native windbreaks on paddock borders. Which make fantastic wildlife corridors.

Overall I say to Australias farmers.
Keep up the good work and keep improving. Worth going to modern regenerative practices for PR, running costs, premium value, long term farm land value and the planet.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Permaculture is not zero effort gardening

I've been thinking about the different ways people garden.
To break it up broadly.
Vegetable gardening. In plots of usually a single annual crop per
plot. multiple plots for food variety.

Ornamental gardening. Mixed perennials for visual effect.

Farming. Mass monoculture for ease of harvest and production.

Now permaculture leaps in...
and it has aspects of all of those.

Permaculture gardening:
Mixed plantings of perennials and annuals. Mixed for food variety and companion planting effects. Optimised for small scale continual subsistence labour with minimal inputs.

If closest to anything it is classic ornamental gardening.
But most people come to it from an annual vegetable gardening background.

This can have consequences in initial planting and preparation and especially in continual maintenance.
At the start of a cycle in spring. An annual gardener tends to clear the bed completely, weeds or previous planting. Maybe mulch it to suppress weeds and improve the soil. Then planting into a clear area with seeds or mass seedling.

A mixed garden will have plants already existing to maintain. They may be younger perennial plants that need mulching around, pruning, clearing competition away.
They may be established plants that need maintenance, especially pruning. Which often means getting a resource. Such as cutting back perennial basil so it doesn't overrun the garden, also means you are harvesting a bulk amount of basil that can now be processed by drying or making pesto etc
Some pruning may be needed for the health of the plant or to direct competition but the output use for it is just bio mass. Mulch or hugelkultur structure.

As people are newly introduced to perennial plants, they can have trouble with their 'weed' aspects. Mint has a terrible reputation as weed. It spreads, lives in conditions other plants can't cope with. Which really just means it's hardy. A good aspect for our plants. But we do need to control it. But that is observing and interacting a little bit as required. Most mints and family, perennial basil, lemonbalm etc can usually be kept in control by harvesting. Harvest the plant as hard as is needed to keep the plant in control. Maybe not a thing for a Zone 3 or 4 where it may escape and become a weed but perfect for Zone 1.

With planning these competitive plants  suppress the weeds you don't want. Your weeds that fill gaps are now edible. So you need to weed as a task less and less.

Annual planting almost becomes as simple as, is this different to last few years? and is there room and a reasonable environment for this year.
As the garden is established a seed bank of mixed, successful self seeded plants will populate the garden.

The effort for a permaculture garden is different to a classic vege garden. It is more continual and observation based and less in set seasonal cycles of weed, plant, weed, harvest, clear.