Monday, 20 April 2020

Autumn Veggie Garden


It appears, as there has been a clear shortage of seeds and seedlings that many people have been using the extra time at home to set up veggie gardens.
Which is something we can definitely relate too. Hopefully the uptake in gardening, amongst other skills and activities will continue after these "uncertain times". And that for all the fear and negative aspects of our current reality that the positive legacy would be a resurgence in basic living skills; the home garden and home produce, cooking, forgotten crafts and up-cycling rather than purchase of new.

For us establishing, or our case 're-establishing' our veggie patch was not a product of our forced time at home; though the dedicated time has helped. But had been planned for the autumn, following the decommission of our previous veggie beds in late spring last year. 


Unfortunately decommissioning the existing garden bed was a requirement when installing the new sewerage system (as our old one literally went to poop); a requirement for our family home! The 'geo tech' report for the new system specified the location for the treated water dispersion was exactly where the old beds were located. So unfortunately they had to go. Therefore we planned to re-establish some new raised beds, in a new location in autumn. 


Autumn may seem like a strange time of year to many. Having grown up in Wales I always associated spring with fresh planting and new starts. However here in the tropics, summer is our wet season. And the hot, humid conditions and torrential rains are not great for growing much other than weeds. So starting out then did not seem like a great idea. Also trucking in soil would do a fair amount of damage to the ground.



So this week we finally got the beds prepped and formed. Lining the ground with weed matting and up-cycling strips from where we finally replaced the old water tank. The large poly-tank split during cyclone Debbie- though we hadn’t done anything with it, or replaced it until last year.




The ground work and new water tanks we installed around the same time as the plumbers installed the sewerage system. 



So knowing the veg bed had to go, we decided 600mm strips from the old poly tank would make good raised beds in the future.
And 6 ton of soil delivered and shoveled into the new beds.
We didn't make her move it all!

So for our veggie beds we have started with some basic vegetable that we use frequently and that are fast producing. We tried not to get too carried away with too many varieties or produce options;
Lettuce, bok choy, spinach, rocket, mustard greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, capsicum, corn, fennel, sweet potato, carrots, radishes, snowpeas, beans











We also used a combination of seedlings and seeds. This is so that a) we see some results sooner, but also by planting seeds along seedlings we have succession planting. So more coming behind the established plants.




Now I am not one for conventional straight lines, as my partner would agree. So I have divided the beds up into sections for the larger items, and then planted smaller, companion plants as under planting. Which we have used to plant into. Hopefully creating some attractive and productive gardens.

Monday, 13 April 2020

It's going to be a very different Easter

It is funny, as it has been quite some time (prior to our most recent post) since we blogged. Though I has drafted a number, that were never complete, or I had not published (for one reason or another). 
The most recent was a discussion about Christmas, and how we balance traditions we grew up with and associate with the season. To that of a ‘hot Christmas’ in mid-summer. And how we have adapted, others embraced and even created a few of our own. How it maybe the detail that is important and is about creating and sharing memories. Well a quarter of the yer has past… and I had not published that post. And we find ourselves approaching another significant holiday.

Now we are not religious, so am not wanting to preach to anyone. So, for myself as a child Easter was a few weeks break from school; two terms down with one to go. Was spring and full of hope and hope for good weather. Time spent with my family and some chocolate too. 
Again, here in Oz it is still around school holidays, so we usually try and fit in some camping (as here in Qld the weather is cooling but still stunning- hopefully wet season has dissipated).
Lent seems to be followed a little more, and fish (or seafood of some description) is the highlight for Good Friday. As it's the southern hemisphere we are move into autumn (not spring) so the children’s gifts are focussed upon rugging up for cooler nights (pyjamas and slippers) and books for the night-time stories. The Easter feast, decorations and festivities are more elaborate. Even the Easter bunny seems more significant, even magical.
However, this year we all find ourselves adapting, embracing and maybe even creating a few new traditions. With most of the world affected (on some level) by this pandemic; there will be no camping trip and no visitors. We will remain connected, digitally but be physically distanced and settled here at Maes-y-Delyn.

So what are your Easter plan's for this year?

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Loss of a true mate


Firstly, I wish to apologise. I did not realise how long it has been since I posted a blog. I had written a few but had either not finished or not published them.

I have remained a little more active via our Instagram (maes_y_delyn.qld) and Facebook (@maesydelyn.qld) pages. But that is no excuse.


Given all the craziness going on around the world at the moment. I felt that we should be blogging. And that this may provide some hope, tips and an outlet for us.

However, before we go into any of that we have had a few changes here at Maes-y-Delyn. The most recent being the passing of our (not so farm) dog Ffion. And whilst the chickens are roaming a little more confidently. We are definitely feeling her absence.

This beautiful girl had provided companionship that grounded us not just here at the farm, but in our lives here in Oz.

Ffion joined us, after living in Australia for just over a year. As we had acknowledged that there was something missing. This beautiful girl made Australia home. Little did we know she would become the best, most loyal, loving and tough little pup we could have wished for. She was an awesome little best mate to the whole family especially our daughter and will be truly missed. Rest easy girl thanks for 12 wonderful years.



Tuesday, 2 January 2018

More than just honey… A sweet alternative to Clingflim (gladwrap)


So after almost 6 months of intending to, I finally attempted beeswax wraps.

 
Having only raided the bee hives a few time this year the supply of honey has been quite ‘exclusive’. Though this had not been my primary reason for venturing in; mostly it had been to inspect their progress, particularly after cyclone Debbie. Which may have been some 9 months ago now, however with the vegetation being ripped up, cut down or stripped as a result of the cyclone, there hadn’t been a lot of blossom, and therefore pollen for bees to feed on. Many local apiarists (beekeepers) had resorted to   their hives sugar water; only having the two hives and there not being too many around us, plus we hadn’t harvested prior to the event meant we didn’t have to do this. So we were fortunate (and it is a positive sign of a strong colony that) just four months on we were able to harvest some surplus, only 3.5kg but still. Followed by another 7-8 kg, three months on again. So whilst 10-12kg may not be a lot (given that a single hive may produce in excess of 50kg in a year) that was not the only product we extract.

I apologise for the lack of images taken during bee keeping- only it takes one  of us to entertain our toddler indoors or out of the way (just in case), whilst the other tends/raids the hive. Not that the bees are overly aggressive, but they are defending their home/queen/food supply; so this is just precautionary.
 
Sometime ago I purchased these wonderful versatile products- bees wax cotton wraps. They replace the need for cling film (or glad wrap, depending on where you are) for a lot of things; as they are mouldable, strong, water-resistant and re-usable… They’re not suitable for covering hot foods (as the heat melts the wax) or meat, but most other things (storing/covering/wrapping fruit, veg, garden produce, nuts, sandwiches, cheese, bread, crackers and fermented foods in your lunchbox, fridge or pantry…) they are fantastic!



So I am not going to lecture about the use of plastic, as if you were to look in my fridge, freezer or pantry you would immediately note (amongst the recycled jars etc) are Tupperware containers, silicon moulds and plastic ziplock bags, along with a vac-pac kit. Predominantly these items are reusable, other than the latter which I am yet to find an equal alternative for meats… especially on the scale we produce it (a beast at a time), which I am not willing to lose to freezer burn or anything else or that matter. On the other hand we live by using the most of what we produce and reducing what we purchase, so the idea of making our own beeswax wraps is really no different.
So according to commercial promos, depending on use and with good care they can last up to a year. My original (commercially purchased one) had lasted a fair bit onger than that.  And once you’re finished their supposedly completely compostable (as their all natural product)… but better still now I know they can be re-waxed. 



Now most of what I have read suggested that whilst melting wax onto cotton would work, it can crack when chilled. So I used coconut oil in my mix to assist with pliability. Another addition often used (particularly in commercial ones) was pine tree rosin… this took some sourcing, especially for food grade. I suppose it isn’t a necessity, but it does provide that tackiness that helps when moulding to items, or itself. The rosin is also supposed to have anti-fungal properties; which is helpful, especially given that beeswax is supposedly antiseptic too.

 
Now I had read a few posts about making these, some heat the ‘ingredients’ on a baking sheet in the oven, others use a double boiler method- combining the ‘ingredients’ in a “bowl” first; heated by sitting the “bowl” on top of  pan of boiling water (much like heating chocolate). 
 Either way I would not recommend using your best utensils or crockery when attempting any of these processes. In fact the bowl, tray and brush I used will be kept solely for this purpose.

So how much beeswax do you need?- Some specified quantities for varying sizes, others were a little vague about how the shavings were spread. (e.g an 8"x"8 piece requires 2.5 tbsp of beeswax & rosin and 1 tbsp of oil.) Personally I found this to be too much rosin, as it stained the cloth, was difficult to melt and made the resulting mixture quite (unnecessarily) thick. 

I must admit the idea of a double boiler seemed like more work to me, and dirtying (or destroying) additional equipment. So I tried placing a piece of cotton on baking paper in a tray and then scattering wax pieces, rosin dust and drizzling coconut oil over it; then heating in an oven at 60⁰c. The result was not the best. The ‘ingredients’ appear to melt at different points, so the kitchen was a little smokey and the coverage was poor… and the pattern run and cotton even burnt a little.
 
Melt wax and oil first, then add rosin
So I got over my laziness and attempted the double boiler method. Again the ‘ingredients’ did melt at different points; so I would highly recommend melting your beeswax and oil together and then adding the rosin once the other ‘ingredients’ have melted. This seems far more effective. Otherwise the rosin clogs to the brush (or whatever you are using to mix) and not mix with in.
Third time lucky











This effort resulted in a claggy and uneven finish. So I combined both methods- omitting the baking paper which was burning by now.

Most important point is that you are only trying to warm the mixture. So only put the oven on in between batches to maintain the heat- same for the hob.
 


(Again I need to apologise here for the lack of images, only you need to work quickly) 

It was at this point I gauged my mixture as equal parts coconut oil and beeswax, then half the amount of rosin. I then placed a prepared cotton piece in the tray, brush with the mixture over the bowl. Then place in the oven as necessary to keep melted. Repeat until all the cloth is covered, then peel when the mixture is wet (if solidified it will not peel evenly) and then place out to dry (which will not take long) and set.
 
Once dry they are ready to use.  Whilst these may not be perfect, they’re not a bad start- I must admit bright colours look the best, though not if they have white patterns, as the mixture stains it.

 I'll get back to you on how much a piece needs when I have played with the quantities a little more. 
 To use; 
Simply mould the wrap to the top of the dish by using the warmth and pressure of your hands to create a seal. Or place item (here cheese) in the middle and wrap over and mould the ends back on itself. 







                                                                              To clean;
Wash using a mild detergent and cold water; you can pick off dried on foods or soak in cool water until it softens and washes away. Once rinsed lay flat or on dish rack/ clothes horse to dry, then simply fold away and store til next use. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

EOI- Berkshire weaners and day old chicks

This week has been productive so far. 

We saw the arrival of Sage and Smokey's most recent, and most likely last litter of piglets. (As we have a replacement boar, and other bloodline waiting). 











She delivered 10 healthy little porkers, and so far we have counted at least 5 girls, so will be taking expressions of interest, as they should be ready for re-homing early October.














We have also begun hatching so chicks. Our initial hatchlings will form part of our next generation. However we should hopefully have day old chicks available for both 
Sussex- Light, Silver & Platinum (potential splits) and Ross 308 broilers from September.

We are based within the Mackay region (Queensland) and maybe contacted via email 
maesydelyn.qld

@gmail.com or  Facebook

Please note we are not a commercial entity, we are a hobby farm and only occasionally offer excess livestock for sale. 

Composting

Following Plasticfree-July I felt it was apt that we revisit another waste-reducing action that can be done on a variety of scales; so it doesn’t matter if you live in an urban area, or have a veggie patch or access to a community garden- and that’s composting.
Composting uses the natural process of decomposition to convert organic waste matter into a nutrient-rich soil you can use on your garden. So it is a great way to reduce landfill, with the added benefit of creating your own compost, mulch or even worm tea (depending on your method) … so win, win all round!

Composting is most definitely not hard (though if you follow this blog you will notice I have made a few mistakes along the way), however if I can manage it, anyone can!
It is basic to set up (regardless of the method)
  1. Choose a shady spot to start your compost heap or to position your compost bin/wormfarm. There are many types of composting bins available - some require mixing and some don't.
  2. Add to your compost in layers of food scraps, garden clippings and paper.
  3. Keep your compost moist, but not wet and aerate it about once a week.
  4. When your compost is dark and crumbly (somewhere between six weeks and four months) dig it into your garden, spread it on top as mulch or use in plant pots.
Anyone who has read the older posts would know we began composting using a worm farm, as I had an alternative motion- producing our own worm supply for our bio system (sewerage from the house).  But over time we have set up a few here and there

A (commercially available) compost bin in the veg patch for direct disposal of weeds- this may sound crazy, but I actually keep some ‘weeds’ in the veg patch as they off great ground cover and compost/mulch rather well. Being so close to the pig pen and paddock I can also include manure to assist its breaks down before putting it on the garden- as its high in nitrogen (but we’ll get back to that)

Image result for compost binAdvantages
The bin has no initial construction and is easy to install.
The base is perforated to allow contact between the ground/earth (and its inhabitants) and your compostable, however it can be quickly and easily relocated.
The front hatch allows for direct access to the lowest materials (compost), whilst the lid allows you to continue to top it up.
And it is all discretely hidden away- ideal for small gardens and those with curious pets or children (and yes I have both, so I can get away with saying it).
Disadvantages
Fills up quickly
Not to easy to aerate if necessary
Can become mouldy in the tropical climate, due to minimal ventilation

A compost heap in the chook pen, for breaking down chicken manure, bedding and garden clippings.
Advantage-
Cheap to set up.
Allows the chickens to assist in the breakdown, as they scratch for extra protein snacks (could be messy in an urban set up though)
Well ventilated
Can easily see the compost progress and aerate or ‘mix up’
These also work well on large scales as you may set up various stages along side each other.
Disadvantages
Visible
Accessible to curious animals and children

A worm farm in the herb patch; as its en-route to the shed/bin etc and reminds me to feed the worms their share of food scraps. As our biggest issue here been having sufficient scraps for the worms (as generally the animals get first dibbs).

Now these are not your generic earth worms (though that is what you rely on in a ground based composter- though adding these would not hurt your garden, but they may disperse.

Worm farms can be homemade (beware of residual chemicals and pesticides on materials- as may have been the reason our initial attempt didn’t work), or you can buy ready built versions maybe purchased from most garden centres or hardware store and online (we picked our up second hand from www.gumtree.com.au). 
 







Worms are also widely available through these places and online supplier. Our initial batch were purchased online (www.wormsrus.com.au) and we were amazed that they were delivered via express post . But also try community garden groups and online forums (these have become increasingly popular for trading good and items)  

Advantages
Discrete and can be set up in most situations (on patios etc)
Does not require as much space, as the worm assist the breakdown and is much quicker
Also produces worm tea- liquid fertiliser, a great addition to any garden
Disadvantages
You need to feed it- it cannot be forgotten about like the other options, or your worms leave or perish.

Once you have decided on the best system and location suitable for your home/set up, then there’s what to put in it. The obvious is household scraps, we make a habit of keeping a small bucket in the kitchen designated for food scraps (we do this for animals anyway). But you can purchase decorative little bins/ tubs from any retainers now so it doesn’t have to be unsightly.
I would advise washing it out regularly (after use), or lining it with newspaper can help. You can get biodegradable bags too but then I consider this an additional purchase/ generated waste item. But its personal preference; if it makes it more likely that you would use it.   
You can also compost paper, cardboard, tea bags, coffee grounds, vacuum cleaner dust, lint from a dryer, animal manure, used animal bedding, garden clipping… It’s probably easier to discuss what not to compost;
  • Meat, bones or fish scraps as they will attract pests
  • Perennial weeds or diseased plants, as these may be spread.
  • Banana peels and rinds of citrus fruits (like orange peel), these are very acidic and can affect the pH balance- and definitely do not include if you have worms
  • Dairy products (other than egg shells)
  • Grease and oils
Garden/animal waste
·         We do compost sawdust from the chicken coups, however this should be mixed or scattered thinly to avoid clumping.
·         Also pet manure (by pets I mean dogs, cats etc not livestock) can be composted (and many council encourage this now. However this should be confined to a specific composter (only for this purpose) and not used on gardens or areas that may come into contact with people or anything else that maybe consumed.
But otherwise it is a case of trying to balance your compostable scraps- it breaks down to a mixture of carbons and nitrogens- essentially you need both to encourage a ‘hot’ environment at its centre. This is why we aerate, to assist with the break down.
Material
Carbon/Nitrogen
Notes to consider
Kitchen scraps scraps
Nitrogen
 add with dry carbon items- no meat, fish or bone
eggshells
neutral
 best when crushed
leaves
Carbon
 leaves break down faster when shredded
grass clippings
Nitrogen
 add in thin layers so they don’t mat into clumps
garden plants
 use disease-free plants only
Pruning’s (trees/shrubs)
Carbon
 woody pruning’s are slow to break down
Animal bedding
Carbon

Green comfrey leaves
Nitrogen
 excellent compost ‘activator’
Flowers, cuttings
Nitrogen
 chop up any long woody stems
Seaweed and kelp
Nitrogen
 apply in thin layers; good source for trace minerals
Wood ash
Carbon
 only use ash from clean materials; sprinkle lightly
Manures
Nitrogen
Chicken manure is excellent compost ‘activator’
Horse manure requires a long time to decompose to avoid weed-spread
Pet manure should be composted separately- not for consumption or contact- dispose responsibly
Coffee grounds
Nitrogen
 filters may also be included (and some pods now)
Tea leaves/bags
Nitrogen
 remove metal staples if bags
Newspaper /
Shredded paper
Carbon
 avoid using glossy paper and coloured inks
Cardboard
Carbon
 shred material to avoid matting
Corn cobs, stalks
Carbon
 slow to decompose; best if chopped up
Dryer lint
Carbon
 best if from natural fibers
Sawdust
Carbon
 high carbon levels; add in layers to avoid clumping
Wood chips / pellets
Carbon
 high carbon levels; use sparingly
As mentioned earlier compost can be ready in as little as 6 weeks, but may take months depending on its composition and how you tend to it. It is ready when it turns to a dark rich colour, and maybe used in garden beds, pots etc.
I admit I am a lazy composter-but then that’s the advantage of having a few scattered about. However, if your composting process is slow, it might mean that your compost isn’t hot enough, or you composition isn’t aerated enough. Try one of the following:
  • Increase the amount of times you are turning your pile
  • Increase nitrogen-rich material, such as veggie scraps or green garden vegetation. See the table above
  • Ensure your compost is moist- so water but do not soak
  • Keep it warm, try covering the compost with some insulation
Your compost should be moist (not wet), so sprinkle with water occasionally and turn- remember the centre should be warmer and this is what breaks it down, but it still requires oxygen or it may ‘starve’- especially if using worms.