Sunday, 18 January 2015

Coppicing silverbeet

We had some volunteer silverbeet pop up in our lawn area.  We figured it wanted to grow there so we left it. And grow it did - big and tall. We had silverbeet over 2m high in some spots this year. Plenty of silverbeet was produced. And it was good. Achieving silverbeet security is one of the less challenging tasks for the urban homesteader in Melbourne.

We let the lawn die off over summer (with some help from intensive guinea pig grazing) and so did the silverbeet. In an easy way to clean up productives past their prime we ran the mower over them. This left some stalks that we thought were dead.

But the plants have re-sprouted from the sides of the stubs just like a tree coppicing from the stool.

We are developing a nice little silverbeet crop again.

The perfect low maintenance crop :) Some evidence suggests there are coppiced forests in Europe have been managed in this fashion for thousands of years. Perhaps our coppiced silverbeet will be a cut and come again crop for many seasons to come!

In the garden

A few shots taken in the garden today...

nectarines still ripening

a magnolia bloom

Peaches protected from the rosellas and other wildlife

strawberries, sage, horseradish and golden marjoram

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A good year for honey

I've heard from both commercial beekeepers and hobbyists that this season has been a good one in terms of honey production.

Based on the output from our hive I'd have to agree.  Last night we bottled the honey that was extracted recently. Usually we only harvest once, doing a whole box at a time. This season we should be able to harvest a couple of times.  The honey below came from a single full-sized box:

The large jars on the left hold over 500ml.  All up it was nearly 17 litres of honey.

Our stash of recycled jars is now empty. Looks like we're going to have to enlist the help of friends to collect some more for the next harvest.


Thursday, 15 January 2015

Alpaca farm visit

Anyone who knows me, knows I adore alpacas. So it was such a treat when Mr PragSust organised our recent visit to an alpaca breeding farm.

Alternative View Alpacas is a 69 acre farm located in Mirboo North (South Gippsland) which is just under a 2 hour drive from Melbourne. Run by Brigitte and Keith Kat, it has a spectacular view of the surrounding hills and is home to around 150 alpacas.  

Brigitte kindly gave us a tour of the farm.  First it was off to the barn where expectant mothers, and mothers with young babies are housed each night.  Oh boy, were they cute.  Inquisitive and quite friendly - we were surrounded  by alpaca mothers and babies.  I'll spare you the 100 or so photos I took and just show you a couple..well perhaps a few more than a couple :)

I got to hold 1 day old alpacas and take a mother and her baby for a walk, as well as  do lots of alpaca patting.  Suffice to say I couldn't stop grinning.

Brigitte lets the mothers and youngsters out of the barn each morning and they spend the day grazing around the house and garden as well as in paddocks.  

The view from the deck of her house was of mothers grazing and babies playing. Pretty hard to get used to.....NOT! We went for a wander around the farm and saw more alpacas grazing in the paddocks.

Then Brigitte took us on a tour of the rest of the farm.  Brigitte and Keith are very keen to live sustainably. They recycle, reuse, grow their own fruit and vegetables, capture rainwater, keep chickens and bees and generate electricity from renewables. The house they built was made from timber milled on the property.  This was followed through with the fit out - ceiling, floors, kitchen, shelving - all made from trees on the property.

The house has rooftop PVs and captures water from the roof.

colourful chook shed in foreground, house in background showing the PVs

Just by the house there was an orchard which doubled as a chook run. We can vouch first hand that alpaca poo certainly agrees with fruit trees. 

 A prolific kiwi fruit vine also powered by alpaca poo provided ample shade for the chooks. The last harvest from the vine was over 600 kiwi fruit! 

Inside the orchard there were several beehives so naturally we got to chatting about our mutual interest in bees :)

A non-functional and unrepairable water tank on the property was recycled to create a large veggie garden consisting of multiple beds. This supplied much of the couple's food. We could see a good garlic harvest drying in the house. 

Brigitte and Keith swap excess produce from the garden with friends in return for things they don't grow.  They have a large composting bay for garden and kitchen waste.

Brigitte also took us into her workshop where she makes garments from silk and felted alpaca wool.  She had an amazing range of items - from jackets to scarves, some using naturally coloured alpaca wool, and others hand-dyed in a wide variety of colours.  Every item was unique.  She sells her pieces at markets and runs felting classes from her workshop. You can see some of her creations here

Oh yeah, and Brigitte's dog had recently given birth to some very cute puppies:

Last but not least, the entry gate to the farm was pretty good too!

All in all it was an inspiring trip - for those that like alpacas, as well as those interested in permaculture and sustainable living.  Brigitte and Keith are planning to run more farm tours, from the end of February onwards.  You can check out their website for contact details.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Very low firewood miles

We have a range of street trees planted in our neighbourhood. One common species is Liquid ambar (Liquidambar styraciflua). A large branch fell off one the other day not far from us.

Getting firewood usually involves putting wood in the back of the car wrapped in a tarpaulin or a trailer. With the prospect of low timber miles and using the wheelbarrow to bring the wood back I took the Huskie up the road.

First I trimmed small branches using the saw and breaking some off by hand. Taking off these small branches makes cutting up the larger limbs safer and easier. And the wood is easier to stack.

Then I cut up the branch into firewood sized pieces.

And loaded up the wheelbarrow.

To hold up the larger sections of the log which were lying on  the ground I used a log jack. Holding up the log end helps to avoid getting the chainsaw bar pinched and cutting into dirt. If the chain hits dirt while in use this blunts the cutters. Sharp chains are essential for safe and efficient use of a chainsaw. But not a job I want to do more often than necessary.

PragSust Enterprises owns a chainsaw mill. I considered slabbing the largest piece of  the branch but the wood had some rot.

Job done with wood cut into firewood lengths and the smaller material off the footpath and driveway. (If I'd had more time I could have chipped the smaller branches but I had some other work planned for that weekend including a trip to Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges to check out a largish Himalayan cedar Cedrus deodara for chainsaw milling.) The homeowner can put the smaller material in the green waste bin for collection. Our suburb has separate roadside collection for general waste, recycling and green waste.

I then stacked the wood under our north facing eaves. This spot is sheltered and captures a lot of sun. Wood dries quickly.

Firewood cognoscenti may notice an interesting mix of species. There's some blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) from windthrow on a farm, some mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) from a large tree that blew over on a property in the Dandenongs, some pine (Pinus radiata) from farm tree fenceline trimmings and the just added liquid ambar.

The liquid ambar might not have long to live. Half of it looks dead.

And where the branch fell off doesn't look healthy. Perhaps pruning the tree into a wineglass shape to avoid contact between the electricity lines and the branches isn't so good for the tree. Burying the electricity lines might be a better solution.

Various parrot family members love the seeds from these trees. Corellas eat the seeds in the tree.

And on the ground.

As well as seeds from other trees.

As long as the wood is burnt when seasoned in a properly operated, high efficiency combustion system, wood energy is a low carbon, cost effective energy source. We get all of the wood we use for heating from what would otherwise be waste sources. And in this case we had very low firewood miles!