Sunday, November 22, 2015

What am I doing?! Oh making gardens for chickens.

I've been thinking a lot about life recently for various reasons. As in what am I doing with my life?
You also get asked that a LOT when you go off grid and a really focused Simple Life.
I find that a little confusing. Did I prefer constant headaches and contributing to a system I find silly better to fresh air, being surrounded by plants and seeing a visible, real output to my work? Why is that a question?

Yeah they don't ask me like that, but still.

What if I go on holiday, or want to work on an interstate contract?
As I get older, especially assuming I'm alone, how can the Gardens look after themselves and me?
So much of what I do with life also affects the Gardens.
Yet also I consider the idea I can start again on new land. Every garden I make gets edible and pretty faster.
But really the garden is really a very direct connection and part of my life.
What I do with my life affects the design of the garden.

and the end practical point of a lot of that is....

How can I design garden beds for chickens to be able to free range through them freely?

Big chook resistant plants surrounded by rocks.

The theme of the Wallaby's Rock Garden is Relax. Enjoyment of the gardens is a huge part of it. It is supposed to be easy to look after. It is supposed to be for animals and wildlife as well as humans.

Right now most garden beds have fences. These are to protect against cows, rabbits and chickens. Very few beds don't have a fence and very few plants or trees don't.

I want the chickens to be able to completely free range.
Foxes make that tricky.
I want the gardens to feed the chooks so I don't need to.
I want the gardens to protect them.
I don't want the chickens to destroy the garden.
I don't want to step on chicken poop.
A chook friendly garden is likely a wild bird friendly garden.
I want chickens and especially ducks to eat slugs.

The View Bed. Fence dug into ground. 
So I need a few garden bed 'types'
  • Fenced chook, fox, rabbit and rat proof
  • Fenced chook and rabbit proof
  • Unfenced and chook friendly.
Cow proofing is generally a larger than garden bed fence.

Also much of this will be succession planning.
A young garden may not be able to handle chickens kicking the mulch around but a garden with larger mature herbs could.
The 'View Garden' I want to be unfenced in future but for now the plants need to grow up without chickeny, and especially bunny, attentions.
As the plants get bigger I can put more rocks around to protect them and the chickens can scratch freely.

Chickens would be fine under here.
I'm looking at my various garden beds and considering fencing changes.
Some places would be fine without but I'm also using them to help shelter less resilient plants. Maybe just fence around the weak little annuals?

As the gardens are all new I'm still a little wary of opening them up but it will happen more.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Spring cycles

It is pretty cool being the second growing season at the gardens and starting to see the effects of some of the long term projects.

Swales have nice dirt at the bottom of them and greener plants downhill.
Soil in gardens is much less clay and is taking shape into terraces.
Weed numbers reduced
Clusters of mixed garden that seem quite tough and resilient are forming and other gardens spreading from there.

The pruned christmas tree hawthorn out my window looks much more classic conical.
The elfhouse and bathroom tree shaping has a shape. :)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Spring planting and growth.

Partly this post is so I can have somewhere to remind what seeds I planted. :)

Viola Heartsease. Native bed. Home bed. Watergarden new vege bed. door beds.
I think I should get a bunch more seeds and scatter all over the place.

Climbing bean. Watergarden new vege bed.

Zuccini. Watergarden old vege bed.

Yellow paper daisy. Watergarden west slope.

swam river daisy.  Watergarden west slope.

cucumber. home bed. watergarden new vege bed.

French marigold, sparky. Watergarden new and old beds.

Most of those were a bit more spread around than that but those are the main spots.

I've also set up a little greenhouse and have been putting cuttings and seeds in there. Which is new for here.
Mainly salvia.

I've decided I'm not going to focus much on vege gardening this year it is just a side effect. To an extent I always do that. :)
I'm trying to focus more on getting the beds set up. Fenced. Trees survive. And trying to get the flowers, especially self seeders up and running.

Plus perennial veges and soil and compost.

I don't think I've allowed enough redundancy last year, but then last year I really only had one fairly small bed.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Lots of people seem to think permaculture gardens can't have flowers.
Personally as I've gotten better at garden design I've added more flowers each time.
Some just with the famous companion plants or edible ones like pot marigold or nasturiums.
However much like weeds are just plants not understood or in the wrong space or wrong balance, flowers, like pretty much every plant, have uses if you just think about them and use them.

My car of flowers came from visiting someone and helping remove some plants they didn't want. They are mostly very 'unpermy' flowers without obvious functions other than being pretty, which is a very important function unto itself.

narcissus (daffodils and jonquils), poppies, salvia, lily, iris, rose, boobalia.

Now the obvious use for flowers is insect attraction and repelling. Eg bees, plus the smell of various flowers can help distract destructive insects.

daffodilThe daffodils primary role is being pretty. But they have a special being pretty role. Cows and rabbits are less likely to eat them as they are poisonous. So they can be planted in Zone 4 areas and more easily look after themselves with less fencing.  Similarly they can be planted in the border of more conventional garden beds and help keep the bunnies out. You do need to be careful as the poison can get into root veges so don't plant them next to potatoes.

I love salvias and collect as many of them as I can. Some are edible such as mint or the yummy flowers of the pineapple sage. Some have medicinal uses such as sage. But all have uses, as well as being pretty. :) They are a perennial, good for soil structure and have really long flowering season. They are tough. They grow from cuttings well. Once established they tend not to be eaten by cows and bunnies. They're not very greedy. They cope with frost and dry well. All these tough traits mean they are an excellent shelter plant. I stick them all over the place, even right in the middle of a normal annual vegetable bed, to shelter their neighbours from wind and frost.

Roses have rose hips which make a nice sweet very high vitamin C tea. As well as being spiky and can be used to protect other plants. They also act as good fungus detectors and often have that role in vineyards to warn of threats to the grapes.

Lily is a good plant for wet and dark areas.

The common boobalia I did actually deliberately collect as a fast growing wind break. They also are edible. So pretty standard permy multi-purpose plant here. :)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Zone Planting and Design

Zones in garden design are where you attempt to consider;
How often you have to use or service an element
matched with
The energy at the location.

It is a very useful concept to use when discussing a garden design and where to put plants and other elements.

I'd quite like to use the term Ki rather than energy but I'd have to describe that anyway so I may as well stay with energy. As what you are considering is not merely Energy, ie joules of work, but can include a lot of aspects, most especially attention. Distance, if it is uphill, how often you walk past on the way to something else (eg the street or car park), if it is in view, if you think about it, if it is behind something else.

Zones are not hard and fast definite boundaries, they may well transition
Not all places will have all zones. Most urban places only have zones 0,1,2
Zones can also change over time.

Zone 1: Usually your main kitchen garden, annual plants, wormfarms to use scraps. May include a lot of flowers, food for the soul as you'll be in and looking at it.
It is usually close to home, easy to see and keep in mind. You'll probably find yourself in it even without meaning to.
Usually this is the zone you start with and gradually move out from once it is set up.

Zone 2: Still pretty easy to reach but might take some effort.
This is where you put things that want some attention but are pretty good at looking after themselves.

perennials and vegetables which have a long growing season like pumpkins.
fruit trees
compost bins (I tend to stick one of these in every zone)
bee hives
berry runs
poultry enclosures

Zone 3: The easiest description is Farm land.
Animals, cows, sheep, horses.
Long term crops

Zone 4: Is almost wild but is used and somewhat maintained.
Foraging, eg black berries or mushrooms, hunting, firewood
Places the animals still wander
Weeds might be controlled or certain plants given a bit of help.
Seeds dropped etc

Zone 5: Is unmanaged by human control. A wilderness conservation area.
Natural bushland, forest etc.
If you have a national park next door. Or an area specifically left alone.

Some people also discuss Zone 0, ie the home itself, which may include pot plants, window sill gardens, home energy design, thermal mass etc.

Some even talk abut Zone 00. Yourself, health, mental set and philosophy etc.

So for the Wallaby Garden
I have multiple zone 1.
My fenced home garden around the bedroom container. Just outside the door and windows. Walked past in the way from home to virtually anywhere. However it is beside and behind, not out the door.

The water garden area around the pond.
This is getting a lot of attention at the moment but in time will probably change to zone 2, especially as the pond sections grow and make access a little harder.

Zone 2:
These are a little further away.

Up by the gate that I see and drive past but have to deliberately walk to.

The berry runs. Near the big room but a bit far from the bedroom. Berries should need minimal attention but as the main room gets used more in the future they will get more automatic zone 1 attention.

Various garden beds or trees generally with their own fence but often reliant on placement below slopes for watering. Sometimes on the paths to other places on the property. I tend to have herbs and self seeding plants in these as well as some of the younger trees.

The other zone 2 area that is a good example of how things can vary is right out my door.
The beds on the left and right mainly have pest repellent plants as you often just walk past and not notice.
The main area has only newly been fenced and is a construction site for the kitchen and bathroom.
So perennial herbs are planted but hardy things that hopefully need minimal attention.
Once the construction is done it will become my main zone 1 garden for edibles.

Zone 3 and 4 is fairly combined for me.
The blackberry, hawthorn, sweet briar rose, mushrooms and other wild foraging plants are spread in the zone 3 fields and the more wild zone 4 slopes.
Everywhere not fenced the cows tend to go. I will set up cell grazing later which will separate the 3 zone more.
Some of the zone 2 sheltered gardens are likely to become zone 3 long term herb gardens.

My zone 5 conservation area is mainly the creek I believe was managed and
brought to a reasonable 'native' state by a Landcare group sometime in the past.
I will maintain it, reduce weeds, add some zone 2 type gardens, try to keep the Koalas happy.
I also intend to add a wildlife corridor to my north, so maybe that counts. Current plan is more to use that as a cell grazing area so more zone 3 like.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

maybe a more gardening friendly way is 'A niche will be filled', or one Rosemary Morrow​ says is "Soil doesn't like to be naked' :)

Where there is naked soil some plant will try to fill it.
Also soil is a living thing and like us, it gets cold, or sunburnt or wind blasts it and is more comfortable and healthy with something covering it.

dense and mulched gate gardenThere are a few practical effects of this:

Don't make bare soil unless you intend to use it.

Plant densely. Help the plants you like fill the space. Plant big plants such as trees, and medium things like shrubs in between, and ground cover in between them. Don't give weeds or grass anywhere to use.
This is part of the value of the Food Forest concept.

Use mulch. If you do have bare soil, mulch is pretty much always a good idea. Consider the leaf litter on a forest floor. Cover the soil in leaves, or bark or old cardboard or shredded paper, even rocks. Something that stops the soil drying out from the sun and wind, something that breaks down safely into soil (so you don't need to move it off again), something that lets rain through.
Mulch also can be used to make use of fertiliser such as cow poop or chicken coop flooring and watering easier as it slows the release of that flow into the soil.

My picture here is my garden up at the gate. It is very zone 2, I drive past it but don't actually walk past often so I don't want to weed it or have to pay it much attention at all. Any grass and bare earth I just cover with cardboard as mulch and drop a shovel of cow poop on top to stop it blowing away.

This bed also uses a few middling sized rocks as mulch for a few reasons, a lot to do with the quite windy spot this bed is in. Again it stops the cardboard blowing away. The rocks give thermal mass and so keep the beds temperature more stable and warm. Rocks tend to attract moisture as they cool over night, especially off wind. The biggish rocks also act as a wind break so the baby plants have a bit of time to grow before they have to deal with the wind.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Getting all wintery

It is getting all cold and wet. This is good in many ways, my new pond is filling up, the ducks have stuff to splash in even without me doing anything more than leaving trays and buckets around and plants get autowatered.

The main thing I'm doing is setting up new beds ready for next spring. The cow monsters are being kept away by barbed wire fence, then 2 strand electric fence, and the new garden areas have pallet fences and some plants have their own extra chook wire. So they'll probably only get in and eat everything a few times.
I'm encouraging the ducks and chooks to hang out in the new gardens, especially the water garden pictured above by feeding them in there. So they hang out, poop on things, do some scratch and scooting. I scythe grass or get hay the cows have eaten most of and now pooped on then ignored, throw that in the main chook straw yard, they do more kicking and pooping, especially at night, (chooks do about 50% of their poop while they sleep!) and after it's sufficiently poopy I shovel it to the uphill bits of the water garden where the poultry gives it another kicking, mainly held in position by rock terrace borders. Normally I'd leave the straw yard for longer, such as 6 months, to break down, but the water garden area needs it so it can break down there and not need to be moved again.
I'm putting a few plants in the water garden. Mainly berries and a few flowers alongside the pallet fence, but really this garden won't get anything until spring, or maybe some trees in late winter from grafting workshops. This will be one of the most significant gardens but its its 1st year (it was solid blackberry) and things take time.

The other garden I'm working on for winter is my kitchen garden. Just outside my home container. Rocket stove  and outdoor shelves. The plan is to just grow herbs everywhere. Reach down and grab some basil to chuck in dinner. This is a longer term plan and in ways much simpler. I'm mainly planting a few citronella geraniums near the doors and around the edges and just semi random useful herbs that I have copies in other spots. Since for all I know I'll walk on them or the chickens'll eat them. I expect they'll be tough enough to cope but if not they have parent plants somewhere else better protected.
On a related note I'm also growing tons of cuttings of various herbs for this garden and borders. Basil and lavender and rosemary mainly. A few dozen in seedling trays. Seems to be working well so I'll probably do more and a greater variety of plants. Yay for the magical sky watering system.

What else? The kitchen garden is also slowly growing its pallet fence and I'm also doing semi-hedgerows with my wild hawthorn trees. Partially cutting through branches, bending them where I want. Mainly experiments so far but I think this hedgerow business is going to be very cool and useful. Good to stop the cows, good protection for especially native berries, the various birds love hawthorn. You can walk to a hawthorn tree and literally a hundred cute little wrens will fly out. I'll still reduce them, they are an invasive weed, but they certainly have uses.

There is a lot to harvest at this time of year too. I still have ridiculous amounts of basil I'm just keeping cycling through the solar drier. There is a plenty of perennial spinach, and I pull up the dead sun-chokes and find kilograms of tubers to eat. plus spuds and the occasional tomato and pumpkin.

So things slowing down but still heaps going on.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

An introduction

My first post about perfectionism was more just so I replaced the previous test post.
I probably should write an actual introduction type post.
I really consider the main site to be my preferred way to communicate as I have time to be more specific about what I want to say. But here I can rabbit on a bit more.

So maybe a who am I? or what is the blog or even the site even the physical site about?

Well the Wallaby's Rock Garden is a gardens in the South West of Victoria, near Warrnambool at the end of the Great Oceans Road.
It's about 20 acres.
It is my main project, my art, my business and my home.
It is my demonstration site for sustainability, self sufficiency, technology. The self sufficiency is pretty good. I can be self sufficient with electrical power, cooking gas, water, food (even meat). The property is pretty big but it is not a farm as such, it is a garden. The primary focus on the place is to be beautiful, natural and simple. The initial simplicity may not be beautiful in the eyes of all beholders but hopefully over time it will become more functional, more integrated with nature and more artistic and beautiful.

The blog is about permaculture or more direct stuff at the gardens. What is being done, workshops etc.
Also general ramblings that are directly related.
I'm more likely to put refined, useful info, eg how to make a rocket stove, on the site, though I'll probably write an initial version in the blog.

So who am I?
Andrew. Hi :-)
My background is engineering. I am an environmentalist and practitioner of permaculture as it makes the most sense to me from an engineering and scientific viewpoint. It makes the best use of resources to pay attention to all the inputs and outputs of a system.
Making ourselves sick from pollution is not very sensible. Burning up your top soil and water supply is not a good long term investment.

A large part of this life is managing health. From previous work I have migraines and ringing in my ear.
But I've gone from permanent headaches to occasional ones. The ringing is not that annoying when I don't need to filter an office-worth of noise out.
Overall my health is pretty darn good. People usually underestimate my age quite a bit.

To an extent the gardens are a game.
I try to be completely self sufficient.
I know your supposed to be all 'do it together' and work on the 'invisible infrastructure' and I do, but I like doing stuff alone and my medical issues and general way of doing things mean I am comfy alone.
I try to avoid fossil fuel use, pretend the effects of a post peak oil world have hit. I use hand tools, scythes, brace drills, hand saws, pickaxes, pedal power, animals etc preferentially.
I try to use material from on site, reuse as much as possible or use 'found' materials or others castoffs,
Part of the game is to try optimise human health. Try to think about the best diet, exercise, use of the mind, ergonomics.

So where another may use an excavator to dig a swale I'll do it over time with a pickaxe. Instead of natural building using 20 people over a week I'll consider how to make out of earthbags carried by one person and the overall construction able to occur over a longer time.
It might not always be the most sensible or easiest way to do things. but it's part of the game.
I'm not hard and fast with any of it, but it is the ideal.

But there is a lot of 'Do it Together' I want to achieve.

As things progress I want to work with schools.
I want to work with local businesses.
I want to help connect local sustainability groups

The longer term aim for the gardens is an arts retreat.

One description that struck me at a David Holmgren workshop was that institutional memory and culture was one of the main ways culture persists. I want the Wallaby's Rock Garden to be something that persists and passes on a positive and valuable culture for the future. More than just me, more than just a physical location.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Small and Simple solutions, Observe and Interact... I call it Iterative Development

A lot of people are perfectionists. They don't like to show other people their things until they are perfect.

But Gardening is Art. The ever striving towards a perfection even if it is forever unreachable.

And the especially cool thing with a Garden as Art is that it is living thing, it constantly grows and is never finished which means you Can keep getting closer to perfection. You don't need to put that final layer of varnish on before the gallery exhibit.

One year it has some weeds you thin out. Then you plant a tree. Then later add some ground cover and mid story shrubs. Then a fence. Then you plant some more flowers. Year after year of improvements.

You don't always know what works. Thus the permaculture principal of 'observe and interact'.
On top of the hill with the lovely view might seem a good place to put a building but then later you observe the high winds.

In software engineering it is called iterative development. Make it work. then come back and add features or make it more stable or easier to maintain.

You don't always have the time, resources or knowledge to make something perfect the first time.

Plus in a garden most people who see it, certainly Permies, understand this and can see the potential and where it is going. A garden is a multi-year project. Even with a budget of thousands and professional landscapers, let alone when you're alone making it out of found materials.

I love seeing gardens at various stages. From the bare landscape, to initial sketched out ideas, earthworks, a few years of development, to a mature developed space and gardens decades, even hundreds of years old passed down families or groundskeepers.

Relax, enjoy, keep learning, keep improving.