February 2018

February:

Fun

Farm

Financial Year end!

We have had a fantastic February! Some stunning, hot, sunny Summer days and long evenings.

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Last year much of our time was split into things we were good at, role division by skill. While this was effective use of time, it wasn’t always the most fun way to work. This year, we have started off trying to do many of the day to day jobs together so that we can both enjoy the fun aspects, as well as the slog. Although it may seem to not be as efficient, we feel we are more efficient since we have more fun doing things together, can often put our minds together on solving a problem, and actually work faster with two people so we get more done in a day. It has left us both in a much healthier, happier position. Fewer of those overwhelming days of paralysing panic at the thought of all that needs to be done.

We have spent a lot of time repairing the damage from the storms last month and finally have most of our beds replanted and damages repaired. The thatch roof is going to take some time to find a solution but can survive a little longer.

 

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Typical February storm rolling in

At halfway through the growing season, it wasn’t an ideal time to have to buy in more seed and infrastructure since we will be unlikely to pay it off in the balance of the season. However, if the season keeps going in the same way, we could have more of these crazy storms and lose all our crops for a third time! So we decided to invest in some shade cloth. This will protect our crops at the germination stage, provide heat and hail shelter for younger/sensitive crops as well as extend our growing season a bit so we might be able to grow longer into Winter, with frost protection, and start earlier in Spring. We made makeshift mini greenhouse tunnels along our market garden beds using either fencing wire or poly-cop piping as hoops. These low tunnels are easy to open to harvest but also mobile depending on which beds need the cover. Being low, the amount of shade cloth needed is much less than a building a tunnel that we can walk in. Out of a 50m x 3m roll of shade cloth, we have been able to cover 6 beds. We cut the pieces to size, rolled them onto a piece of discarded pipe and the unrolled these covers over the wire or poly-cop pipe hoops over each bed, secured the ends with wire off cuts as pegs. The rocket has certainly responded well to the protection from the sun. Being a cooler weather crop, the rocket was constantly stressed and kept bolting before we could get a second cut. It seems much happier now. We hope the newly seeded lettuce and baby leaf spinach, also cooler weather crops, will benefit too. Carrots have been seeded too and shade cloth offcuts laid over the beds to prevent birds eating the seeds. We hope to have a better germination rate with this strategy. We also took the opportunity to lay new compost over the damaged crops. The damaged crops will continue to decompose and provide nutrient for the new plants. We have learnt a lot from our second round of planting! We have one more set of beds to go to provide our next succession.

 

In the meantime, the little microgreens have been running the show! Check out our microgreen cycle video on Facebook – grow micros, harvest, chickens eat the leftovers and turn into eggs, pretty good deal!

Last month we became the proud owners of some old discarded potato crates from our neighbours. We painted these with linseed oil to protect the wood, filled them with old tree stumps, garden refuse and soil to begin planting. Common advice was to use a damp seal type product to seal the inside of the crates but we were concerned about the leaching of chemicals into the soil, that we would be growing food in! We hope the linseed will prolong the wood for a good few years. We have planted butternut, beetroot, gem squash, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, chilli, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, herbs, onions, leeks, and beans in these boxes in companion style planting. Lettuce, carrots, marrows and rocket we can use from the market garden. These boxes are also covered in shade cloth, using the old offcuts we stored when the old veggie garden collapsed due to snow in 2016.

 

 

We have planted a lot of beetroot seed recently too, in three week intervals for continuous supply. Originally we bought the seed for microgreens but the germination rate was too poor, despite the high price these micros sold for. It just wasn’t worth the risk. (We have found that too with some of our lettuce varieties in the market garden – there is a reason some crops fetch a high price, often they’re very difficult to grow!) The planted beetroot can mature during winter. The leafy greens can be harvested (twist the stem from the root, don’t cut) in the meantime and eaten, similar to chard. Or roasted in a hot, hot oven in some olive oil to produce chips. The actual root can stay in the ground and keep growing, provided not all of the leaves are taken. Beetroot is best harvested at golf ball size to keep a sweet flavour and reduce the chance of a soil flavour. The soil taste comes from an enzyme in the skin which is why it is best to always peel beetroot. Beetroot greens are apparently extremely nutritious. The beetroot seed is actually two seeds within a seedball. Beetroot hulls should be soaked overnight before being planted. If both seeds germinate, they need to be thinned out once the two true leaves appear. Last week we gently transplanted many of our beetroot shoots so we will see how they go from here. Last year we allowed our baby spinach to go to seed and have been drying the seed in the greenhouse. Baby leaf spinach needs a cold snap to encourage germination so we’ve now placed our saved seed in the fridge for a couple weeks before we plant. By then, theoretically the cooler Autumn weather will be nearby.

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Delicious and colourful beetroot greens

Our chickens moved house about two weeks ago. They had great fun in Spring and Summer cycling through the orchard, when the door of their coop would open every two days to a new setting. We learnt a lot from cycling them through the orchard and they provided excellent fertiliser for the trees, as well as breaking disease cycles. However, being such a small flock, and more pets really, the time required to move them every two days was not worth continuing. We learnt a lot about cycling chickens so it was certainly not wasted. Although pets, they still supply eggs for us and the guesthouse. Given the threat of the caracal though, we had to provide a more secure shelter. By the end of last month we were losing a chicken or two every week to the caracal. Once the caracal had found this easy food source, it was game over and if we wanted to preserve the flock, we needed to make a change. One of our wood sheds was converted into a secure coop, with an outdoor extension. The chickens now have an indoor and outdoor section to their coop. While it is big enough for them to live permanently in, we still let them out in the afternoon to forage and free range in the orchard. They stay in their coop/run until everyone has finished laying and then in the early evening we tempt them back in with a treat for their hard work. We know then that they are safe at the riskiest times of day. All the December chicks have integrated fairly well into the existing flock. We had another 5 chicks hatch in the first week of Feb so they’ve joined the flock too and really stand their ground, fearless little things!

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Learning to roost… on the nesting boxes!

The geese have been on a major adventure! They have been given free run of the property. It started with them being let out into a camp near the forest during the day, as there was more available grass. They quickly learnt though that if they walked around the back of the fence, they could follow the garden fence all the way to the front gate and would announce their presence (with a few presents!) on our front doorstep! They would happily do this multiple times in a day. We realised that they are capable of walking a fair distance in a day, and always know where home is. So now they have taken up residence between the house and workshop and graze happily in between all the implements and bits and bobs around the sheds. Occasionally they come back to the garden at night but are generally happy to come and go. They have even started taking themselves all the way to the dam! This is great for their hygiene and future breeding too. Hmmm… possible pasture raised geese in 2019?

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Geese happily grazing away while a storm rolls in

So we have had a lot of fun on the farm in the last few weeks.

This has been well balanced by plenty time in the office with the end of the financial year! Although we both ran small businesses before, a multi-enterprise business brings a fair amount of administration and management. We have had to learn a lot about keeping accounts, financial management, staff management, record keeping, planning; keeping track of orders, deliveries, seeds for the farm; reservations, deposits, special requests and stock for the guesthouse and many other aspects of business alongside the hands-on experiences in the guesthouse and on the farm. We now even have an accounting programme – wow!

We have also made an effort to squeeze in some ‘playtime’ this month, realising that sometimes having a break and downtime is actually the most productive thing you can do for a business. Quiet afternoons reading, or walks on the mountain, time with friends in the evening, or watching TV on a Sunday evening have been very welcome!

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We have a couple exciting things in the pipeline over the next few months, some in the guesthouse, some on the farm. I’ll just say that one includes the delivery of 100 chirping broiler chicks next week as we begin an adventure into pasture raised broilers! Watch this space….

 

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