Farm Club

2018/05/06 deej 0

The first rule of farm club is..  please do in fact talk about farm club. Tell anyone you know who might be interested. Encourage other people to start their own versions – maybe we can make it into a movement.

Farm club is a combination of a (hopefully) practical co-op for food sharing and an attempt at a real-world version of a gifting/barter economy. The idea is that members offer “shares” in whatever they produce, along with what they need back to keep producing the thing, and other members sign up for those shares.

So in our case, we produce eggs. We’ve tried selling them directly, either for eating or hatching (we have roosters, the eggs are fertilised), but it’s hard. Working full time and trying to do a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is hard; working full time an hour to an hour and half commute away from home and trying to maintain social connections, and spend time with my kitties and my geese and my chickens, have a little bit of time to myself to write or read or play, AND doing a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is well nigh impossible. I just don’t have time, or the energy.

Plus, chickens aren’t machines. They don’t lay an egg a day all year; they molt, or a fox comes past and tries to get in (and fails, but still, it does them a frighten), or the weather turns cold or gets too hot, or something happens in their little chickeny brains and they stop laying. Or they find a cache of delicious bugs or something, and they go berserk laying like they’re mental (2 eggs a day from some of the hens, for no apparent reason). To reliably produce enough eggs to sell, we need to actually over-produce, which means we then have an excess to try to sell (but then we have the same problem of supplying the demand once we generate it) or to use up ourselves (our diet is already egg-heavy, we really can’t effectively use any more).

Thus: farm club. It’s a variation on the idea of people jointly buying and owning a cow or goat, and all taking a share of the milk produced by the jointly owned animal (this idea has been used by people wanting raw milk, because while it’s illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, it is legal to use the raw milk form your own animal).

In this version, we’d offer a number of bird-shares for eggs and farm club members could sign on for one or more of these egg shares. Each share is equivalent to a half dozen eggs a week, and the ‘cost’ of your share covers the feed for producing those eggs (either directly as chicken feed, be that commercial grain-based feed or fruit & veg e.g. excess fruit from a loquat or lilly pilly tree, or in $$). We’d set a day and time (and frequency) that farm club members could come and pick up their eggs (thus sorting out our distribution issue) – for us it would be one Sunday afternoon per fortnight (Fresh eggs will last up to 3 months in the fridge, a fortnight won’t hurt them or you). If the chickens aren’t laying, or are laying less than usual, we’d post an update saying that there are no eggs that week, or that there are limited eggs.

 

farm club spreadsheet

* One standard 10L bucket  of fruit/veg scraps is approx 2 kg, but feel free to bring more if you want. Best options are greens (celery tops, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce), fruit (lilly pillies, loquats, strawberry tops, bruised bits of mango or peach, the seedy bits from the middle of melon, watermelon rinds,apple cores) or chook-friendly vegetable scraps (cooked beans, corn cobs, the seeds from pumpkin or cucumber, peas or green beans, cooked potato or sweet potato). Leftover cooked rice, barley, couscous or pasta is also okay. No citrus or onion please, and nothing mouldy (those should all go into the compost).

I haven’t worked out all the bugs from the idea, but I think it has possibilities. For example, as we start producing more things, farm club will get different types of shares that members can sign up for – and maybe even some different types of shares that other members produce.

Check out the Farm Club page – it’ll be updated as we work the idea out further. 🙂

Fruit Trees from Seed

2018/04/16 deej 0

The received wisdom of gardeners and horticulturalists everywhere (I’m generalising, go with it for now) is that it’s pointless to grow fruit trees from seed because they don’t come true to type. (True to type means that the fruit of the daughter plant will be the same, or very nearly the same, as the fruit of the mother plant.)

There are exceptions – mangos and mot citrus produce what are called polyembryonic seeds, which means that there are multiple embryos in each seed, and only one is the result of sexual recombination – the others are asexually produced, and will grow into clones of the mother plant. And of course there are the fruit trees that don’t produce seeds at all anymore – bananas, some citrus, some grapes, and fruit breeders are working on creating reliably seedless apples (yes, this is possible)..

But broadly speaking, we don’t grow fruit trees from seed anymore. Unless we happen to be fruit breeders, in which case – we do exactly that. Which begs the question: why don’t the rest of us (at least the more patient among us) try it?

The heritability of flavour profiles, colour, and storing qualities are actually quite well studied for most major fruit species. There are a few obvious ones; for example the pale aril colour in pomegranates is, as far as we can tell, a simple recessive – with the standard deep red or pink colour being dominant; darker reds and the red-black colour of some fruit results from a complex of other genetic factors affecting levels of anthocyanins, but the white/pale pink arils are easy to breed for. Most traits, though, are complex and have a low % heritability. Apples, for example, have a 10 – 15% heritability for characteristics like acidity, juiciness, crispness, and sweetness, and only about a 30% heritability for astringency (useful in cider apples, but a negative for dessert or cooking apples). Fruit breeders use fairly high tech methods to test for useful characteristics, including looking for molecular markers for traits known to be useful (such as disease and pest resistance traits) but a lot of the mroe useful flavour traits are too complex to effectively test for using molecular markers and genetic analysis. Even fruti breeders are often reduced to crossing two likely parent trees and growing out the seeds to see if they produce good fruit – but fruit breeders aren’t just looking for pleasant tasting fruit, they’re also looking for something different from existing varieties.

The home grower isn’t generally going to be that picky. If your seedling apple tree produces fruit which is really very much like (but not identical to) a gala or fuji apple, that’s a net positive if you don’t need ot market the tree as a brand new distinct and different variety.

And the secret that geneticists and plant breeders don’t tell anyone is that the chances of getting reasonably good fruit from a random cross between two parent trees that produce good fruit is quite high. It might not store well, or ship well, and it might not be unique and distinct from any existing variety; it might not fruit earlier or later than other common varieties, and the tree may well be susceptible to disease (or it may be resistant). But the chances of edible fruit are really quite high. And every seedling tree which is allowed to grow to adulthood and join the breeding population enhances the health of the species (clone trees don’t add much to the species, since they’re all copies of the one individual and don’t add any genetic diversity to the gene-pool – which is one of the reasons that people try to preserve some of the older varieties, to keep that genetic diversity in the gene-pool).

So why don’t we grow more trees from seed? It’s not hard to do. Apple seeds will often germinate in the fruit, and will otherwise germinate quite happily if you put them between some pieces of damp cotton wool on a saucer in a sunny spot. Stone fruit pits should be put in the fridge for 6 – 8 weeks, sealed in a plastic baggie or a container with some damp sand so they don’t dry out and then planted out once the weather warms up. I haven’t had much luck with pomegranates (only 4 germinations out of nearly 100 seeds), but in theory you just plant the seeds directly into soil or potting mix in warm weather and keep them damp but not soggy. Citrus like the damp cotton wool or damp sand in a saucer and a sunny windowsill to germinate, but you can also plant them directly in a pot of soil or compost. In my experience, mangos like to germinate in the compost heap or worm farm (warm, humid, moist conditions), so just throw the pits in there and rescue the plants once they sprout. Loquats and guavas will self-seed if you let the fruit fall (which i don’t recommend, because of fruit fly – but you can plant the seeds in some good compost for the same effect). I don’t know about grapes yet, but I bet they grow easily from seed; most Mediterranean plants do.

Go forth and plant 🙂

slow starter

2017/01/16 deej 0

New Years has come and gone, and I’m still just starting to settle in to 2017. It feels like a really slow start to the year somehow.

 

The hot weather has arrived, and we just went through a 24 hour power outage because the lines gather dust during dry weather and then a cool spell or a drizzle of rain (water falling from the sky! Weirdly, that does happen sometimes, even in midsummer) can cause fires on the lines or in the transformers. Which seems bizarre to me, but that’s how it is. It’s prioritised our desire to get a nice, big solar install set up, so we’ve got quotes coming in for that. Also my desire to build a solar cooker – so watch this space, and I’ll post the project when we make it. If nothing else, we’ll take it with us to Blazing Swan, and do some festival baking.

 

It might seem late in the year to talk about New Years Resolutions, but like I said –  it’s been a slow starter.

 

I’m not much for making annual promises to myself to change my life, although I know it’s a positive experience for lots of people; I’ve always figured that if I want to make some sort of change in my life, I shouldn’t really need to wait for the end fo the year. Mostly it works pretty well for me (although I do have to keep a goals list, so I don’t forget about any of the good ideas I’ve had and haven’t quite gotten to actioning yet). I do see the appeal, though – the changeover to a whole new year is a kinda magical time for me, a holiday and a time for thinking and for personal renewal and self-care.

 

So instead of a resolution as such, or even a word to characterise my aims and ambitions for the year, I have a new tradition: learn a skill each year. It’s something K used to do, and has decided to take up again, thus inspiring me to do the same. We each choose our new skill in the Dec – Jan period, and then learn and practice over the year. K is learning card magic, and the associated sleights of hand. I was tempted by a new language, but instead I’m thinking that this year I’ll learn to use my potters wheel properly, to throw a pot.

 

I did pottery classes as a kid, and I have used a potters wheel before – but not for a very long time, and I don’t think I was very good at it when I did it then. I have a beautiful potters wheel, bought for me as a present a couple’ve years ago, and now I have space to use it now. So I’m going to get some clay, and watch some YouTube tutorials, and learn me a skill. Expect a great deal of frustrated whining when it doesn’t just work straight away 🙂

 

What about the rest of you? Does learning a new skill for the year appeal? What skill would you pick?

summer

2016/12/14 deej 2

No matter how much I like the longer days (getting home when it’s still light!) and warmer weather, I also dread summer a little. While the long, hot, dry days and the coastal breezes may be perfect for a holiday or a day at the beach, they’re not so good for growing anything. The dry summer season is as harsh in its own way as the cold winter of the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere.

 

The theory is that our forest orchard will be reasonably self-sufficient once established, requiring minimal irrigation or care. That theory has a downside though – it takes years for a forest (or an orchard) to become established. The trees are going in, gradually but steadily, but for their first few years they’ll need a lot of support. Daily watering through summer, wire cages to protect them from rabbits and kangaroos, spraying for insect pests, and more. I’d prefer not to spray for insects, but there is only so much you can do without poison. The guinea fowl seem more interested in eating my hibiscus plants than they do in eating ticks or grasshoppers, and there are too many trees already to hand pick bugs off them all. We have plans to try traps for the grasshoppers this season, half filling bright yellow buckets with molasses-enriched water to attract and drown them, and spreading bran sprayed with a bit of molasses-water around the trees (the grasshoppers & locusts eat this, gum up their digestive systems with it, and die – in theory), but we’re inevitably going to end up spraying as well.

 

We’ve acquired some Muscovy ducks to free range across the baby orchard as well, in the hopes that they’ll be more motivated to eat bugs than the guinea fowl. I haven’t seen them eating any flies yet, but apparently they do. The surviving juvenile guinea fowl are going to be free ranging soon as well, bringing us up to a total of 6 (4 babies and 2 adults, out of a total of 4 bought as chicks and 18 hatched). They do seem to be keeping the tick population down, but they aren’t having much of an impact ont he grasshoppers.

 

In the meantime, irrigation is a big ticket item on the to-do list. Last summer we hand-watered every day, carrying 10 L watering cans back and forth. This summer we’re trialling a gravity-fed dripper system, fed from the small water tank, for the apples. It seems to be pretty successful so far, so we’re aiming to put in similar systems (fed from 200 L barrels or 1000 L IBCs of water) for each group of trees. With luck that’ll cut our workload down to weekly check-ups, although it increases the workload now as we get the irrigation set up. There are more trees to go in this autumn, so automated watering systems are essential.

self sufficiency and community

2016/11/28 deej 0

A friend of mine asked yesterday how long it would be before the farm was self sufficient. It’s not as simple a question to answer as you might think.

 

One answer is: never. We aren’t planning to grow grain, and although I do have some tubs of potatoes and a sweet potato patch, and plans to put in chestnut trees, we aren’t really focusing on growing what the biodynamic gardening people call ‘calory crops’. Those are the foods which make up the majority of your diet – the carbohydrates that give you a baseline energy hit and leave you feeling full and satisfied. For most of humanity the main calory crops are various grains (wheat, maize, teff, millet, rice, barley, etc.), mainly because they are high yielding and fast growing, although potatoes, plantains, and a few tropical starch-producing root crops such as taro are also important.

 

On the other hand, we will be growing some calory crops. Dates, Bananas, a variety of nuts, and a wide variety of fruit are all in the plan, and it is possible to survive on these sorts of foods without the addition of high density carbohydrates. Our modern (and even heirloom) fruit varieties are so high in sugar that they can easily provide us with the energy we need as well as providing vitamins and other nutritients. My not exactly back-of-a-napkin but not fully researched and verified calculations indicate that if we put all the trees in that I want, and if they all survive and produce more or less as well as the literature indicates they should, then once they’re intot heir adult production levels we will in fact produce enough food to entirely fulfil the energy and nutritional needs of somewhere between 8 and 18 people. And there are the animals as well, chickens and geese and ducks (we have muscovies, too, now), and bees producing honey. The fruit and nut trees take between 3 and 10 years to reach full production, and not all are in the ground yet, but.. call it ten years. In ten years, we could be self sufficient if we wanted to, and we were willing to give up any type of food we couldn’t grow ourselves. And we’d have it pretty good too – we’d be giving up most of our wheat & rice intake, and making that up with fruit and fresh vegetables and nuts. Instead of having a sandwich, we’d have dried figs and dates, maybe some cheese, or fresh berries.

 

The third answer is that no one is ever truly self sufficient. Self sufficiency is by its nature isolationist, and that just isn’t how the world works now (if it ever did). Community sufficiency is a much better aim, where instead of pulling back and focusing on your own needs you move forward and form relationships with your neighbours and the people around you who have similar interests. The community you form can act as a miniature village, and between that group of people it’s much easier to make sure that there’s enough to go around – enough food, enough clean water, enough social support. Enough help on the days when running a farm is hard, and an extra pair of hands to get the firebreaks done or fix the fences is the thing you need. Enough shared objectives to check out random banging and crashing in the middle of the night if your neighbour’s away – and hey, it was just kangaroos making a racket, but knowing that someone will check still makes you sleep easier if you have to be away overnight. Enough to share with friends and family, and not just your own friends and family either but the friends and family of your entire community. That’s what this is about. That’s what self sufficiency should look like, and I think it’s what we should be aiming at.

 

On that note, this summer we’re going to start slowly ramping up our workshop capacity. I’m running a trial cheese-making workshop in mid December, with plans to run more if it goes well. We’re going to break out the seed-ball machine in the new year and have a seed ball making workshop (please hit us up on Facebook if you’d be interested in that – it’s kid friendly too), and I’m going to see what I can do about a grafting workshop towards the end of summer. In between times, there’s potential for some food preparation along the lines of jam and chutney making, and fermentation, and possibly some walk-through tours with info about keeping urban livestock. So if you’re keen to get involved and join our fledgling community, watch this space (and the facebook page, which is where events are posted when the dates are finalised). Feel free to request a workshop if there’s something you’d like to see, or if there’s something you’d be keen to teach people – we have a venue, and it would be great to learn something new.

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