Sunday, 24 November 2013

Square foot gardening

The trailer bed has been planted with broad beans, snow peas, lettuce, beetroot, strawberries and calendula as my late winter/early spring crops. Now all those crops are finished so it's time to replant. 

The broad beans produced very well.

The calendula provided flower petals for oinitment, seeds for planting and looked pretty too.

The lettuce and strawberries grew really well together but now the lettuce has gone to seed.

Square Foot Gardening
I have been reading about square foot gardening lately and I thought I would give it a go in the trailer bed because the size of the trailer can be divided into 24 neat square foot beds.

I used wool to mark the beds out; not a long term solution, but it will do for the first planting.
I later removed the calendula, but decided to leave the strawberries.
The idea is to plant a given number of plants in a square foot of garden space. The beds need to be easily accessible and it's an advantage to have some trellis space. It's amazing how many varieties of plants can be squeezed into that little trailer bed using this method.
This method of gardening was pioneered by Mel Bartholomew, who must have a good mathematical mind.

This chart gives a planting guide for lots of common vegetables.

I planned the planting of my trailer bed using an online planning tool which made the planting much easier. Then I got to work planting the bed.

My November planting plan for the trailer bed (for some reason it shows the planting date as the date I downloaded the plan; the real planting date is 17th November 2013).

I dug up each square, added compost and a sprinkle of blood and bone and planted the required number of seeds in the square in the advised pattern.

The whole bed looks neat and tidy again. I put the shad sheet back on until all those seeds sprout then I will mulch the bed and take off the shade.

Carrot and Potato towers; growing potatoes in small spaces.

 You guessed I am largely immobile due to my knee injury I decided to go through my photos for the last few weeks and update all the posts I planned but didn't get to.

Carrot towers
The carrot towers have been disappointing so far; the carrots haven't grown at all and many have died. I'm not willing to give up on the idea yet though. Some of the possible causes of the failure are;

  • Transplanting the carrots (they don't really like to be moved) or transplanting them too young.
  • Over watering (I admit I went overboard on the watering because they were right beside the door)
  • No morning sun.
So next time I will either plant advanced seedlings, or seed into the tubes and I will move the whole thing to a spot that gets morning sun.

The carrots have not grown at all.

The marigolds around the bottom look great though.

Potato towers
I have had some success with potato towers though. The basic theory is the same as the carrot towers except all the growth comes out of the top of the tower and the height allows the plant to form many more potatoes than it could in the ground.

The potatoes surrounded by compost which is kept inside the wire tube by a newspaper lining.

The potatoes are planted into cardboard boxes full of compost to reduce grass invasion.
Each tower is planted with two potatoes, I have Desiree and Kipfler  potatoes in this year.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A new tank water level indicator

Today we (and I use the term loosely) put in a water level indicator on the new header tank. I wasn't much help as I damaged my knee putting the header tank in and am currently wearing a very fashionable leg brace. My partner found an indicator kit online, it's Australian made and owned and uses about 50% recycled items. He is so impressed with it that he is going to stock them at work (Rural Energy Supplies).

This is what came in the kit, along with some clear, easy to read instructions; fishing line, a sinker and a fishing line guide thingy.

Then the instructions are pored over by all involved.

The basic idea is to take a coke bottle and a milk bottle; seal the coke bottle up so it's air tight and fill the milk bottle with sand and water.

The coke bottle is properly sealed up with silicone

The milk bottle is filled up with sand

The sand-filled bottle is then topped up with water

Fishing line (supplied) is then passed through the little guide thingy (supplied) and one end of the fishing line is passed through a pre-drilled hole in the top of the tank. As our hole in the top of the tank was on the opposite side of the tank to the inspection hole we had to spend a long time swearing and cursing while trying to hook the fishing line inside the tank with a piece of bamboo.

The fishing line end inside the tank was then passed through the handle of the milk bottle and tied to the coke bottle float. The milk bottle was then lowered into the bottom of the tank.

The coke bottle float in the tank

Finally the sinker was tied to the outside end of the fishing line so it hangs at the current level of the water in the tank. To avoid frustration it is really important to remember/write down/tell someone what the measurement is when measuring the water level inside the tank so it can be transferred to the outside of the tank.

Measuring the current water level

The final result.

Now I can check the water level of the tank as I walk home from work, instead of climbing the ladder, unscrewing the inspection hatch and looking in, or smacking the side of the tank; I am very impressed.

Mystery disease in the flock

My Salmon Faverolles now.

Everyone who keeps chooks has occasional unexplained deaths in the flock, I had some a few months ago; I had 'chook sat' another small flock for a few weeks at my house last New Years, and I (stupidly) didn't keep the two flocks separate enough. They were in different but adjoining runs. Some of the other flock died (two of them) and I lost six from my flock. Since then I have had one or two getting sick for no apparent reason.
The symptoms ;
Weight loss with no loss of appetite (I wish).
Cloudy eyes with no running or ulceration.
A limp develops in one leg followed by a drooped wing and staggering gait.
Eventually the chook is paralyzed in the legs and one wing and develops a scoliosis (curved spine) with the head twisted.

Even at the later stages the chook is bright with a good appetite and wants to live. Because it only appears very occasionally since the first six deaths I had thought it was something they ate or a tick causing it and tried changing their brand of mixed grain and watching what goes into the house scrap bucket, I have limed the chook pen and shelter repeatedly and replaced the mulch in the deep litter yard. Although it doesn't explain the other flock's deaths, I also decided it could have a genetic cause as I haven't introduced any new chickens into the flock for five years; the whole flock is interbred to a large degree so I may have inadvertently introduced a genetic flaw, so I introduced a new rooster (an Austrolorp) and got some fertile eggs from other sources to bring in some new genes. 
The chooks who were sick got to live inside, in a box (changed twice daily) and were fed a special ration of chicken crumbles, rolled oats and chopped herbs (comfrey, parsley and stinging nettle, also chick weed in winter) to boost their weight gain. All of them eventually died, until one night I had a dream; I watched my flock suffering from this disease, suffering paralysis and losing weight ,one by one they died and as I woke up from this nightmare I heard a voice say 'Mareks'. The first thing I did when I woke up was to google Mareks (because that's what we all do with nightmares, right?). I found that the symptoms are a pretty close match to what my chooks had but that the age range was too big (the usual age for chooks to die of Marek's is 1 - 10 weeks) and the rate of death was too low (most flocks suffer 70 -80% loss).

 Marek's is caused by a herpes virus that attacks the nerve endings and sometimes the eyes and skin and usually results in death. Even though my chooks were only occasionally suffering and the sufferers were of different ages, I decided that it was probably Mareks. Some more reading about Marek's you might find interesting.

My daughter, who is studying Veterinary Technology at uni, text me one day with a link to a research study into Herpes treatment; apparently St John's Wort has shown promise as a herpes treatment in humans and other mammals, it was worth a try with avians too. I picked up a bottle of St John's Wort tincture from our local Co-Op and had it ready to go when the next chook got sick.

Wobbles is a four year old hen who suddenly became paralyzed. I treated her as usual but added 1 ml of St John's Wort and echinacea tinctures to her water a day as well. After a week she regained most of her motor function and is back to laying and running free in the yard, although as tinctures are made with vodka, she retained a deep love of anything alcoholic (hence the new name, Wobbles).

The clip below is of Tonto, he is six months old and his first symptom was the staggers as the video shows.

The clip below is from YouTube and it shows another chook suffering from Marek's.

I treated Tonto with the same diet and medication as Wobbles and he is now on his first day back in the yard. He is a bit weak and wobbly (another one) but he seems to be recovering.

If you have Marek's disease in your flock, give the St John's Wort treatment a shot, it might save a few lives and we can gather some anecdotal evidence for  it's use.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Genetically Engineered cholera vaccines.

OGTR - DIR 126 - Notification of application

The link above is an application to run 'field trials' in three Australian states for a new GE cholera vaccine. I find the idea disturbing;

On the plus side, vaccines like these could save a lot of lives (maybe).

On the minus side, GE organisms are unstable and prone to mutation.
                               GE modification is an imprecise science; scientists are not always sure where in the      gene sequence they are inserting new genes, which can lead to unpredictable results (al la 'I am legend').
                               My personal belief is that there are no quick fixes; nature builds immunity slowly and painfully (but predictably)

This article highlights some of my concerns (in science speak), although it focuses on environmental possibilities rather than the human costs. This blog post gives a few examples of GE organisms which exist now.

What are your views on genetic engineering?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Upgrading water storage capacity

It hasn't rained for a while here and the big (22000 litre) header tank is empty. We still have two 4000 litre tanks full, but things are getting desperate. A lot of our neighbors are already buying water, so I consider us lucky to still have as much as we do. The header tank being empty means we have had to go back to bringing all water into the humpy in a bucket; bath water (3 buckets a day), washing up water (1 bucket a day),clothes washing water (12 buckets a week) and then carry them out again to put onto the garden. I had forgotten how convenient it is to have a tap in the house. My partner has been avoiding putting the new header tank in for some time, but a week of carrying his own water in and out of the house convinced him to take action.

As the header tank is empty, we thought we would take advantage of the opportunity to replace it with the 27000 litre tank we bought (second hand) from a neighbor a few months ago. The old header tank (22000 litres) is destined to be moved down to the humpy to provide western shelter to the living area and to take full advantage of the harvesting capacity of the roof. The actual process of juggling tanks was long, drawn out and frustrating;

The green tank is the old header tank (22000 litres) and the black one is the new tank (27000 litres).

The first order of business was to move the old tank out of the way. We tied a strap around the top of it (after all the pipes were disconnected) and pulled it over with the car.

The figure of eight knot my partner used to be sure we could get the strapping untied again after the job.

Ready to be tipped over

The tank tipped over and ready to be rolled away to it's new home.

After much maneuvering we managed to get the new tank into position; now to tip it over onto it's base. 

The old tank rolling away towards the humpy (causing much ado with attendant swearing, running and flapping of hands). We stopped it with a conveniently placed tree.

The second attempt at flipping the tank over onto it's base. There were many more. Eventually I had to drive the car while my partner levered the thing upright with brute strength (which I greatly admired).

Upright at last, still with the rope attached'

The tank was then towed, via a rope around the base, back to the tank pad of sand the old one had been sitting on.

My handy partner then attached all the attendant pipes and we were ready to pump up the 4000 litres from the house tanks.

We have water in the header tank again. It should last us another month (at the rate of 1000 litres per week).
A storm is threatening as I type, but as yet there is no rain.

While we were fiddling around with the tank I had the opportunity to watch cicadas metamorphosis from an underground dwelling beetle-like being into a flying insect. I got photos in between exciting tank chases and tank tipping exercises.

At this point she was just emerging, wet and raw from the shell of her old body.

A side view
Another one, fully emerged and waiting to dry.

They will be noisy in the bush by December; thousands of cicadas calling for a mate, hundreds of birds feeding young off the bounty of a cicada hatching and one or two hawks, goannas and kookaburras feeding off the baby birds. What a rich ecosystem we live in, even when it's dry.

Is it dry in your area? How do you cope with the shortage of water?

Friday, 8 November 2013

Happy Beltane

The maypole is up and the circle is being set.
Happy Beltane to everyone.

This is the time of year when we celebrate new life. I know that the northern hemisphere is celebrating the beginning of winter with Samhain (or Halloween), but here in Australia it is the beginning of summer. We know it's Beltane because the cows and ewes (who all calved/ lambed around Ostara) are cycling again for the first time since then and will perform their mating rituals if a suitable mate is available. The hens (who began hatching eggs at Ostara) are ready to go back to the chook pen and leave their babies to fend for themselves. The rabbits (who birthed at Ostara) have weaned their young and are ready for a night on the town with any available buck and all over the country spring weddings are happening.

This year we set a pretty altar, the men crowned the women then the women crowned the men (not with blunt objects) and we danced the maypole. There are only a few of us now, and we are getting older, so we made it a stately, dignified pole dance. We then jumped the cauldron to rid ourselves of negativity for the coming year (and to prove that we still could).

Our Beltane altar with Pan and Athena as representatives of the generative forces.

Waiting to begin

As the sun sets, we thank the land for fertility.

The sabbat ritual is important as it marks the passing of the seasons in our minds and reminds us of the things which must be done to preserve our lifestyles (if we don't sow pumpkins at Ostara, we don't pick pumpkins at Samhain).
 I love my religion; it keeps me in touch with my little patch of Earth and it's a lot of fun too.

You can't really see it well in the video, but there was a red shadow dancing around the cauldron. Some chose to believe it was the exposure setting on the camera, I choose to believe it was an elemental spirit come to join the fun. 

Our Ostara planted sacred garden is growing well.

On a related note; I found a carpet python in my chook house, swallowing one of the broody hens (sitting on guinea fowl eggs). This is a common occurrence, we lose one or two chooks every year to the snakes (I think of it as paying the rent, after all they were here first). We moved her down to the nearest water way in the hope that she won't come back.

She is a beauty. When I picked her up I had to use both hands, she was very heavy.