WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE CHICKENS?
There's a lot to enjoy when you have your own backyard chickens. The eggs are a real treasure—tastier and fresher than anything you can buy at a shop. The chicken manure and crushed eggshells can be thrown into the compost or worm farm. During the day, the birds entertain themselves. Scratching the ground looking for, beetles, bugs and other things that go into making delicious eggs. And with their keen eye for insect pests, chickens make for great gardening companions. Backyard chickens reduce food waste by eating kitchen scraps. Chickens do not need a lot of space and even small backyards can usually have a small flock of chickens. Even smaller spaces can have something. Quail make a great alternative and offer very similar benefits.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE GETTING CHICKENS
First, you will need to check your local council regulations to see what their legal requirements are. There could be a limit to the number of chickens you can keep etc. The last thing you want is to do is invest time, effort and money into setting up for chickens and then find out later that you can't even keep them.
Make sure you have the space for their chicken house. It needs to hold a feeder and water, a roosting area, and a nesting box for the chickens to lay their eggs in. A proper chicken house should be large enough that you have access to gather eggs and clean out the manure. Any housing must be sturdy enough to keep your chickens safe from predators as well
Chickens need food (and water) daily. A good quality layer mash is best for them. It is best to feed the chickens this in the morning and give them access to the green pick of an afternoon. How long the bag lasts depend on the number of chickens that you have. Typically, chickens need approx. 100g to 120g of feed per day. I tend to measure this using a measuring cup rather than weight. I also like to add an equal weight of Copra to their feed as it has extra protein which is good for their health, their eggs and their feathers.
Hens will lay eggs through spring, summer, autumn and slowdown in winter periods. They need to have at least 8 to 10 hours of daylight.
Backyard chickens also need at least 1m square per chicken as a scratching space though I like to give them 3/4m square to provide them with room to move. If you give them your best, they will provide you with theirs!
If you go away on holiday, you will need to find someone reliable to make sure your chickens are safe and well while you are away.
THE CHICKEN HOUSE
Is where the chicken's sleep, lay their eggs, and escape the weather. You can either build one, buy one, or perhaps convert an old shed or cubby house. It must be fox proof. The chicken house must be weatherproof yet well ventilated - dry and cool. Chickens like to perch off the ground at night. You need to allow about 30cm space per bird. Sturdy tree branches (if clean and crack-‐free) are the best – 40-50mm wide is ideal.
You will also need nesting boxes where the chickens can lay their eggs in. they like to do these things in private. Old lawnmower catchers are excellent or wooden crates are good too. Add straw or other bedding to their laying boxes. Allow 1 nesting box for every 3‐4 chickens, though I find that they all tend to lay in the same box.
WORMING YOUR BACKYARD CHICKENS
Regular garlic treatment is the most common method: Place 1‐2 cloves (per bird) of crushed garlic into your chickens drinking water, for several days in a row. Another technique is to add a little apple cider vinegar to the drinking water. You can also grow any of the following on the outside of their pen, so they have access to it when they need it – nasturtiums, wormwood lavender, mustard and rosemary.
WHAT ABOUT MITES?
Mites can live in the cracks of the chicken house. They march out across the perch and up the chickens legs at night to suck their blood. Check periodically at night with a torch, and if you find any treat the inside of the chicken house with boiling water or a paste made from hydrated lime. I also like to make a spray of boiled wormwood and water, strain the liquid and then spray into the corners of the chicken house.
Have you ever tried to make cheese? I have taken several courses over the years, and regardless of the effort made, I just cannot make cheese. just not in my skillset :)
One thing people may not realise is that I am also a medieval enthusiast, especially 11 and 12 century. So many years ago rather than take yet another cheese making course, I started to look back in history.
During this research, I found a simple recipe and decided to give it a go. It was for a 'peasant cheese' or 'fresh green cheese', so I decided to give it a go.
Making peasant cheese is very easy. It only takes very little time and is well worth the effort.
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar for every litre of milk (you can substitute for lemon juice if that is what you have)
Heat the milk on a low heat until it just starts to simmer. Remove from heat. Add the apple cider vinegar and stir gently and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain through a muslin cloth, wrap and squeeze out as much whey as possible. Then hang and allow to drain for approx. An hour. When it is finished, unwrap the cheese and mix with a little salt and olive oil until desired flavour and texture is reached. The cheese can also be flavoured with herbs (rosemary, basil, garlic) and serve with fresh fruit from your trees (figs, olives etc.)
It really is that simple, and it is delicious. A favourite in this house when it is made. Just be awarer that it does not keep for more than a week or so, but if you have a source of milk, then you can make a fresh batch regularly.
The additional functions do not stop there. With the leftover whey, we can use it for several different things as well.
First, it can be used to make a whey and honey drink, though it does have an exotic flavour and not everyone may like it.
Second, it can be used in bread, making to make a fortified bread loaf.
Third, the whey can be used as a foliar spray on your fruit trees to help protect them from certain pests and diseases as well as help feed beneficial fungi.
Fourth, feed it to your chickens, ducks, quail to help keep them healthy
and fifth it can be used to make your own Lactic Acid Bacteria (This will be the subject of a future post)
Rat’s tail grasses are robust, tufted, perennial grasses growing up to 2 m tall. They are difficult to distinguish from other pasture grasses before maturity. However, their leaves are noticeably tougher than those of any other species.
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, High Magnesium, Little humus, Low moisture, Low bacterial presence, Sandy soils
Rat’s tail grasses flower and seed in the frost-free period of
the year, with the main seeding in late summer/autumn. It can produce up to 85,000 seeds per square metre in a year, with initial seed viability of about 90%. A significant proportion of seed remains viable for up to 10 years).
Bundaberg Regional Council and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have investigated a naturally occurring crown rot fungi's (Nigrospora oryzae) which has had success on giant Parramatta grass to assist with giant rat’s tail grass management. Biosecurity Queensland is investigating other potential pathogens. To date no agent is proving effective on rat’s tail grasses.
For small infestations, hand-chip, bag and remove tufts then burn them.
Quickly dominates pastures, particularly after overgrazing or soil disturbance. Causes losses in carrying capacity and decreases production by up to 80%. Loosens teeth of cattle and horses that graze on it.
Every time we harvest vegetables and fruits, we are taking nutrients and minerals from the soils, which needs to be replaced or the soil is diminished.
One of the easiest ways we can do this is by applying compost, worm castings or some homemade fertilisers made from things we typically have around our house. By using what we have already, we are reducing the number of inputs we are bringing into our system and helping to create a more closed lopped system - from soil to soil.
Below are 10 of the simple teas and applications I use in and around our gardens to help keep them thriving
1. MANURE TEA
An excellent source of nitrogen. You'll need at least 1 part well-aged manure and 5 parts water, a large bucket (with a lid) and a hessian bag.
Chicken, horse, cattle or sheep are all good to use for a manure tea. But no manure from domestic animals as it can contain pathogens we do not want in our gardens
Add the manure into the hessian bag and place it in the bucket. Fill with water and cover (like a giant teabag).
Let it sit for two weeks. When you're ready to use it, dilute it to the ratio of 1:10.
You can empty the manure-filled hessian bag into your compost afterwards.
2. COMPOST TEA
Use the same ratio, 1 part compost to 5 parts water.
In a bucket, add in 1 part compost and fill it up with 5 parts water. Give it a healthy stir and let it sit for four days.
When it's ready to use, strain it through. Use it straight away and dilute to the ratio of 1:10.
3. SEAWEED LIQUID FERTILISER
Seaweed is full of nutrients for your plants, including potassium, nitrogen, phosphate and magnesium. It also a great help to stop transplant shock when moving plants and seedlings.
Rinse the seaweed thoroughly to remove salt. Then place it in a bucket, cover with water and let it sit. Allow it to sit for about eight weeks in the dark, with a lid on the bucket - this can get a bit stinky if you are not careful. Dilute to a ratio of 1:10.
4. BANANA PEEL LIQUID FERTILISER
Banana are packed with potassium, phosphorus and calcium.
Soak four banana skins in 1 litre of water for a few days. The minerals and nutrients will leach into the water. I always dilute to a 1:10 ratio to keep it consistent and spread the love further. Then I place the remaining skins into my worm farm.
5. WEEDY TEA
This has to be the easiest liquid tea to make.
You use all the weeds from around your garden for this.
using the same 1:5 ratio (1 part weeds, 5 parts water), fill a bucket with your unwanted garden plants. Cover them with water then put a lid on the bucket. Let it brew for about four weeks.
Again sticking with the same ratio of 1:10 for dilution and then use it anywhere in the garden.
Once the weeds have broken down in the bucket, use them in the compost and start again.
6. CITRUS PEEL FERTILISER
Allow peel from citrus that you have eaten or used to dry out and then burn down to ash. This ash will be very high in potassium which can be added to a garden bed or to any compost or worm farm.
7. COFFEE GROUNDS.
Spent coffee grounds have lots of uses. One of their best is as a fertiliser. Lots of plants can benefit from the nutrient-rich resource. There are a couple of ways we can do this— you can sprinkle the used grounds over the surface of the earth, or you can make "coffee tea" to use in our gardens. Soak up to six cups of used coffee grounds for up to a week in 20 litres of water to make garden coffee, then use it to water your acid-loving plants.
8. MOLASSES FERTILISER
Molasses helps to increase the microbes and beneficial bacteria in our soils. This helps all of our plants to grow. To make molasses tea, we just mix approx. 4 tablespoons of molasses into 4 litres of water. Then just add this tea to your plants once a week or so and watch them grow!
9. COOKING WATER
Many different nutrients are released into water we boil our food in. Water that is used to boil our vegetables, eggs, and even pasta or rice can be used as a fertiliser. Always let the water cool before applying it to your soil.
10. EGG SHELLS
Eggshells contain a little nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that help make them a practical fertiliser we can use in our garden. Calcium is also a main component which our plants need to grow happily and healthily. Simply crush them, powder them in a mortar and pestle, and sprinkle them around your garden soil.
With the light constantly changing with the seasons, it can be hard to try and find things that will grow in the shadier parts of our gardens. Do you have an area of your yard that is shaded for part or most of the day?
Many vegetables grow in the shade. Some even thrive when they are protected from the heat of the sun.
The infrastructure on your property can make it challenging to find a place for your garden. The shadows thrown by this infrastructure change throughout the day and with the season as the sun shifts. Luckily, many edible plants can thrive in partial shade, dappled shade, or in as little as 3-6 hours of sunlight a day.
WHAT EXACTLY IS SHADE?The definition of shade in a garden is more diverse than we originally thought. It is important to remember that as the sun travels across the sky, the sunlight levels will differ throughout your garden through the day. Very few parts of a garden are always in full sun or total shade.
These changing levels can lead to four different, distinct microclimate definitions for the shadiness of a particular area:
Full Sun - Areas are receiving direct sunlight for at least six to eight hours a day.
Partial Sun / Dappled Shade - Areas which receive either sun for three to six hours a day, or more extended periods of dappled sunlight filtering through trees. Spots are receiving constant reflected light from painted walls and so on also count as being in partial sun.
Shade - Areas are receiving less than three hours of direct sun a day.
Deep Shade - Areas are receiving little or no direct sunlight, such as those in the permanent shade of a south-facing wall.
TIPS FOR GROWING VEGETABLES IN THE SHADE
• Choose vegetables and herbs adapted to shade.
• Start plants for shaded gardens in your grow house to speed up the harvest. Seed germination and early seedling growth can begin under optimal conditions before being transplanted to the shaded garden.
• Expect slower maturation of crops and scale down expectation of size and yield.
• Pruning away low tree branches and thinning out high branches will allow more sunlight to reach the garden.
• Painting nearby walls or fences white will allow more light to bounce into the garden. Light-coloured paving on driveways or sidewalks adjacent to the shaded gardens will reflect more light.
• walkways next to the shaded gardens will reflect more light.
• Grow vegetables in containers so that they can be moved into sunny spots as the season's change
• They may need a bit more love so check them regularly
SHADE-FRIENDLY VEGGIES AND HERBS
Arugula, Pak Choy / Bok choy, Celery, Chicory, Brassica, Endive, Kale, Kang kong, Mustard greens, Chinese cabbage, Lettuce, Spinach, Swiss chard, Mizuna, Tatsoi, Watercress
Beets, Broccoli, Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, Carrots, Cauliflower, Leeks, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Turnips, Radishes, Rhubarb, Garlic, Peas, Kohlrabi
Basil, Catnip, Dill, Chervil, Chives, Stinging Nettle, Garden cress, Lemon balm, Lovage, Mint, Parsley, Rosemary, Valerian, Coriander, Tarragon, Oregano, Thyme.
Basically, root crops and leafy vegetables can grow and potentially thrive in the shade.
When it comes to watering, there are no standard rules. It is a understanding that depends on the type of plant, the soil, the weather, the time of year and many other variables. Fortunately, there are some averages we can use to start to figure out what to do.
Ultimately going through the above, lead me to choose to use drip irrigation. The one I use has the drips already inbuilt, which made it cost-effective and gave precise delivery.
It has also allowed me to work out how long I need to water my garden to the most significant advantage with little waste.
While I no longer grow vegetables in a market garden style, the lessons learned have translated across to my Permaculture Potager. Knowing that I need roughly 5L per square metre per day, in peak summer and that there is a dripper every 30cms, having 3 rows means 9 double holes. Each hole releases 2L per hour, so that is 36L of water per hour per metre. Some simple maths at this point shows me that to achieve 5L per sqr metre I only need to run the irrigation for 9 minutes per day in the heat of summer to give the garden what it needs to thrive.
Simple, efficient and shows the power of design.
One of the treat we have had for years after a good citrus harvest is a joy of making our own Marmalade. We, however, call it Marble-aid as many years ago when my youngest was just starting to talk, he could not say Marmalade. And oddly enough we still call it that today. It is one of the favourites here in our household.
The recipe itself is relatively easy, but it can take a bit of time not just in preparation but being around as it boils down to the right consistency.
We typically start with 4 different types of citrus - 8 oranges, 2 lemons, 2 limes and 2 grapefruit. Honestly, you could use any citrus, but the quantities would need to remain the same.
Dwarf Nettle is an annual herb with square stems to 800 mm high with harsh stinging hairs. The leaves are opposite, with an egg-shaped blade 2-7 cm long and 1.5-5 cm wide, and clearly toothed. The separate male and female flowers are greenish and loosely clustered in the leaf axils
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, Very low Phosphorus, Very high Potassium, Very high Magnesium, High Manganese, Very high Iron, Very high Sulfate, Very high Copper, High Zinc, High Boron, High Chlorine, Very high Selenium , Low humus in the soil , Anaerobic bacteria dominate, Compacted soils, low waterlogged area, Poor drainage, High Aluminum levels
Annual. Germinates from autumn to spring. Flowers from July to December
A highly acclaimed boiled vegetable, tea or soup. Mineral accumulator
Considered a weed of gardens, vegetables, pasture, stock yards, orchards, plantations, woodlands and disturbed areas. Unpalatable and usually avoided by all animals
Contact causes a reddening of the area with itching, followed by swelling then an intense burning sensation on the skin in people. In most it soon passes but it may last up to 36 hours or longer. Not recorded as toxic to stock. Cattle occasionally eat them with no apparent effect
What is Organic Health Management(OHM)?
Organic health management is the idea that we need to look after the health of our systems as an ecosystem as a whole, rather than looking at it as an individual managing sections of the ecology to obtain a yield.
Most people are familiar with Integrated Pest Management (IPM), but Organic Health Management (OHM) is something a little different.
It starts with what Darren Doherty calls the climate of the mind. Semantics is important. The language we use can really frame the way we think and act. The idea that we are trying to manage a ‘pest’ is showing us our bias as we are only looking at it from a human-centric perspective, not an ecological one. With that mindset, we are only looking at the insects that predate on our vegetable and fruits as a problem rather than an opportunity to learn.
Calling them a ‘pest’ in some way allows us to think that it is okay to ‘wage war’ on these creatures who have been part of this living ecosystem far longer than we have. Something as simple as changing a word and changing a mindset can start to honour the role these creatures play in our ecosystem. As Bill said, the problem is the solution.
While the yields are limited to our imagination (you do not have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency), much like weeds (see Weedy Wednesdays) we can take this opportunity to learn and adapt.
What first really brought the idea to my attention years ago was applying compost to my fruit trees. I was diligent in the creation and the application of compost to my trees at certain times of the year. But what I noticed after each use was the aphid population exploded on my trees each time after application. At first, it was the standard approaches of more habitat species to hopefully bring in the beneficial, but this only worked to a point. It was not until I sat and thought about it did I come to understand that the aphids were a feedback loop to the application of the compost I was making. Upon investigation, I discovered that the compost was ultimately too nitrogen-rich, which in turn had an effect on the tree, which lead to an increase of aphids. I was ultimately responsible for, not these creatures.
Sitting back and thinking can be a powerful thing if we allow it. Observe and Interact.
I had to check my biases on everything, with asking myself a simple question – Is this adding to the health of my system? A simple question but quite a deep one. If after assessment, the answer was a ‘no’ then it was banished from my program. Even on the tiniest level.
From there, it was back to the drawing board and starting again. With a bug book in hand, going back to the beginning with observing and interact, I started taking notes on everything that was going on, deeper than I had done with my permaculture design. What plant, what animal, how were they connected, and what was the consequence of that relationship. Looking at soils – there health and composition, pest prey relationships, what plant attracts what beneficial and what plants repel other species.
Some of the things I discovered and mapped out are below, with downloadable pdf’s at the bottom of this post, but these are just based on my own observations.
Every system is different, and you will ultimately need to go wandering through your own property, pen and paper in hand and explore, hopefully with childlike wonder as I did, this new world that opens up before us, the relationships and the overall health of our system.
It really does come down to management, but rather than manage what we perceive to be a pest, how about we manage the overall health of our system to create something that sits in balance. Prevention is better than cure
Organic Pest Management is a practical and environmentally sensitive approach to managing our systems. It relies on an intimate knowledge of what is happening in our design, the life cycles of both beneficial and pest insects, the understanding and health of our soils, and the creation of a healthy garden habitat based on this knowledge. Use of Home Made Insecticides is an absolute last resort, and typically happens after an external event that I have no control over IE: I found that after the helicopters have flown over aerial baiting fire ants, there is a massive drop in the beneficial insect population in my gardens.
Organic Health Management encourages the honing of observational skills, observe and interact, as well as the knowledge of the connections present between all living beings, and the importance of keeping balance.
Good Organic Health Management is based on some basic principles
• Only make choices that improve the overall health of the system
• Healthy soils contain many different organisms, keeping them in check. Maintain the diversity and fertility of the soil. We look after the earth, and the soil looks after the plant
• By using compost
• By planting cover crops and green manures
• living mulches
Encourage Habitat for Beneficial Creatures
*Keep a diversity of plants in your garden to feed and shelter the beneficial creatures that help fight pests. This can include hedgerows, trees, or even intentionally placed bat or birdhouses.
• Having a variety of flowering plants on the property provides food — pollen & nectar — and refuge for numerous beneficial insects.
And above all, always observe
What is No-Dig or Lasagna Gardening?
As the name implies, no-dig gardening is all about building above ground, rather than digging down. The no-dig gardening concept was popularized by Sydney gardener Esther Dean in the 1970s as a way of minimizing gardening effort while kick-starting a garden with maximum fertility.
Although it can be known by several names, no-dig gardens are definitely NOT no-work gardens. There is less work in setting up a no-dig garden. Still, it’s important to remember that all gardens, particularly edible ones, require on-going maintenance, monitoring and action. A no-dig garden consists of layers of organic material that are stacked up to form a nutrient and organic-rich garden area.
Materials needed to make a No-Dig or Lasagna Garden?
· Manure – e.g., horse, cow, sheep
· Rock minerals
· Spent coffee grounds
· brown organic material – e.g., Sugar cane mulch straw, leaves or dry grass clipping
How to build your ‘lasagna’ or No-Dig garden
1. Choose a sweet, sunny spot for your vegetable garden. Your Vegetables need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. Chose a place that is less exposed to the extremes – less wind and the heat of the afternoon sun
2. Mark out where the no-dig garden will be. It does make it easier if it has a frame to go inside like timber for a raised garden bed. The walls should be at least 20cm/30cm high, but higher is okay. You can use anything to build the foundations including old rocks or sleepers or bricks etc.
3. Line the base with at least 10 sheets thickness of newspaper or a single of cardboard (not waxed) to suppress the weeds, and make sure it is wet. Make sure each sheet overlaps, otherwise weeds will work their way upward. If the soil below has a substantial clay base, add a couple of handfuls per square metre of gypsum before laying the newspaper. This will help improve the drainage by enhancing the structure.
4. Then by stacking alternate layers of fine and coarse compostable materials. I start with a 10 cm layer of aged manure. Then a 10 cm layer of sugar cane mulch or straw and water in well, then a sprinkling of spent coffee grounds and rock minerals, then another layer of aged manure, and then another 10 cm of sugar cane mulch or straw and water in well again. Repeat the layers, finishing with a compost layer.
5. Planting is then done into the top compost layer. Dig a hole and plant the seedlings, watering in well.
6. Mulch well around your seedlings with sugar cane mulch or straw.
7. Due to the level of compostable, organic material (think a layer compost pile in your garden), you will notice that the level in your no-dig bed will drop over time. The idea is to repeat the process with new layers as you change your plants over each season.
You can also build a no-dig or lasagna garden in large containers and pots, simply do the same as described above.