The rains have arrived! We are very excited to have had nearly 300mm of rain in February! Most of this was immediately soaked up by the thirsty earth and plants. The dam filled up, the stream started running again and we moved beyond quenched, beyond storage filled and headed towards destruction.
Don’t we always seem to complain!
Everything is looking abundantly green again, flowers are blooming and the sight of the stream running again doesn’t get old. We could even hear it rushing through the forest from the house!
As the rain continued to fall, we saw much of our market garden wash away, roads were washed away, trees fell down, fences came loose in waterlogged ground … but these can be fixed.
In December/January, we were running out of water and had weeks of guests booked for their summer holidays. We had to prioritise all water to the guest house at the sacrifice of our market garden. It was heartbreaking to watch our veggies taking strain in the heat, or dying altogether. We appealed to guests to be conservative but sadly, this is most often in vain. The weeds took over and we have had a battle on our hands.
The pigs moved into the market garden and helped root out many of the weeds, being especially effective on the rhizomatous weeds that are specifically prolific in our soil profile. Once the pigs had feasted on the left over crops, cleared the weeds and softened the ground, we started building up beds again and replanting. The roots of the new crops were not yet established enough to prevent wash away during heavy storms so we once again watched most but not everything, disappear. However, like last year, we had the opportunity to then restructure mid-season.
Currently our beds run along the curve of the slope. We are now going to try run them down the slope at a slight diagonal. We discovered that the beds tended to stop water moving and cause it to dam along the topside. Eventually the water breaks through in a weak spot and pours through the bed in a concentrated river. Hopefully by running along the slope to the diagonal will reduce this somewhat. It may just mean raking soil up the beds after every harvest but this is the advice we have been given so lets see.
PASTURE RAISED POULTRY
We have not started another batch of broilers yet for 2019. We had a natural break in routine over Christmas/New Year as the hatcheries, processors, feed suppliers were all closed. We hope to do another batch in March but luckily we didn’t have broilers out on pasture during February as they do not do well at all in the rain!
Our layer flock think they are just the bee’s knees with their fancy pants egg mobile. They love moving every couple of days to new areas. Our dear farmer went through and mowed huge areas of land with the tractor (roll on our own herd of anything grazer one day!!!) so that we could see where the egg mobile could and couldn’t get to. We excitedly discovered a series of linked flat areas. A lot of this is flood plain for the stream but much of it is not. It is hidden by trees or separated by rocky sections but our clever farmer has navigated a route for our lucky ladies. We feel very inspired by the openness and relative flatness! We can access the egg mobile easily, still within walking distance. It is such a pleasure to move the egg mobile without worrying about it rolling away at any instant and collecting eggs spread about in the nesting boxes, not all accumulated in one corner! Being below the dam, this means the chickens can get water from the dam, not from the house supply.
They just look so picture perfect, it is hard not to take a thousand photos every day!
After building the egg mobile, we discovered we couldn’t get it down the driveway though due to the alley of arching trees. Cutting these trees back has been on the to-do list for ages as the tree roots are breaking up the driveway and the shade means that grass cannot grow. When it rains, the driveway turns into a river with terrible erosion. While cutting the indigenous trees doesn’t seem like the very environmentally conscious thing to do to save our man-made driveway but it is always the balance of man and nature. Hopefully the damage of cutting these trees can be small in comparison to the other positive impacts we can make as a direct result.
We have enjoyed the long views along the driveway now and over the newly mowed flatter areas, it is quite encouraging!
FOREST RAISED PORK
We have really enjoyed our forest pigs! Initially something we were afraid of, but raising them has actually been a lot easier than we thought. While they do love to go on a little walkabout every so often, they still come back to their base at the end of the day. They have helped so much with bed preparation and clearing areas while being so easy to move and feed. We have been very lucky with being able to collect discarded milk from the dairy next door as a supplement and any damaged/dirty eggs from the layers. Otherwise they sort themselves out and we move them to a new base every couple of days.
Andre planted sunflower seeds in the one field where the pigs had been and these are starting to flower now – absolutely stunning! Hopefully they will reseed themselves and provide forage for the next lot of animals in this area. The bees are certainly loving the sunflowers!
We are looking at getting another litter of piglets to start raising now while it is warm, and through early winter.
Our REKO markets have been steadily growing. Some weeks are better than others with orders but we have made some great friends with the producers and are starting to establish relationships with consumers. We have had interest in a Howick REKO ring, and with the support of some Howick locals, we will be launching 1 March. It has been a great platform for selling any odd excesses that we have too – a couple tubs of chicken liver pate, an excess of basil turned into pesto, a branch of a fig tree fell down in a storm, laden with figs that became fig preserve.
We have found the administration of the groups is still incredibly time consuming and many people are unbelievable critical and enjoy nit-picking at issues rather than appreciating the value of the whole movement. It has amazed us how quickly any little issues degenerate. Dealing with people is always a lesson! Hopefully it will begin to settle.
As part of the transparent market, the original Notties producers have each done a tour of their farm. For now this is just open to producers as we test out how farm tours could work for REKO customers. It has been inspiring and interesting to see other small scale farms – how others have built farms from the ground up, or inherited farms and changed the direction, solving many problems that we all face, sharing tips and ideas. One aspect that we found encouraging was that our farm is always on display. Many producers were quite scattered getting ready for their farm tour and tidying up, neatening up etc. while for us, that is a daily reality. Having the guesthouse means our farm is always open, always visible, always on display and we need to tidy/clean/neaten after every work day. While this actually uses up a lot of work time, it also keeps us accountable.
Delicious meals with homegrown produce or produce from local REKO producers:
Homemade sourdough bread with Gilly’s cream cheese and Gogo’s peppadews, homegrown chives
Homemade chicken liver pate
Banting brownie from Trish with organic ice cream From Jane (basil and raspberry)
Bramleigh eggs and colourful beans, Franco’s bacon, Kim’s tomatoes and cucumber
Most of our news this month seems to simply be managing routine and making adaptations to existing systems. Behind the scenes though there is a lot of discussion and planning. While we are very excited to have all the aspects of our farm that we dreamt of, up and running, we also realise that our time at Bramleigh so far has been a case of throwing everything we have against the wall and seeing what sticks. For us, 2019 is about peeling off the things that didn’t work, or aren’t working sufficiently enough to warrant our time/effort/energy/input and refining the things that have worked to be more productive. We are reading the Lean Farm by Ben Hartman. While we don’t enough data and systems to refine as “lean” defines, it is good to keep these in mind as we develop systems and later when we come to refining those systems again. One of the take-aways we have is that we are led to believe that the only way to grow profits is to upscale. But with that comes more of everything – it is costly to upscale both financially, in the tools and people needed as well as stress. Another way to grow profits is to refine your systems and cut out any waste – unnecessary expenses, movement, time and effort that doesn’t directly translate into products. An interesting thought.
And now, we kiss sweet Summer days goodbyes and start to approach the golden Autumn days ahead…