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Stage 1: food self sufficiency on a shoestring.  RSS feed

 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
forest garden hugelkultur solar
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My husband, daughter and I live in Henley on Thames,UK. I was born in the UK but raised in South Africa where I met my husband. Economic circumstances meant we had to relocate to the UK, which gave us the opportunity to put in motion a plan to gain financial independence when we relocate back to South Africa. As country folk, we would naturally use our skill set to start our own small scale farming operation, which we had done before with feedlot cattle and broiler chickens and the cash crop of tomatoes planted in neat rows, water and fertiliser and bug stuff pumped all over it. We failed miserably because we couldn't compete with the big boys with their millions of "units" of product.I was immensely excited to stumble across permaculture and particularly permies.com. This was a way to raise crops and animals naturally (permaculture ethic 1), while keeping costs low meaning you don't have to try to squeeze in as many head/m2 and source unnatural feed sources. It would be wonderful to be able to meet our needs and share (permaculture ethic 2) without having to crunch numbers and work like trojans. The other issue is that thousands of South Africans find themselves in the same predicament we were in without the opportunity we had to relocate. We believe we can help them (ethic 3) in their communities to utilise the space and limited resources to feed their families, maybe create an income stream and help restore their dignity. But obviously we cant just jump in the deep end , like everything else we have to undertake a learning curve. I mention this purely to give a background and reason for the project.

So, we are employed by and live on an equestrian stud farm, in a small house with a small yard. We have various rules we must keep (eg:no chickens in the yard) and require permission for any changes/additions we make to the property. I definitely would not be able to build a hugelkulture bed! The yard was just a grass patch when we moved in. Over 2 years I have added the beds, greenhouse, patio etc The width of garden is east facing so the one fence is mostly in shade while the other gets a lot of sun, the back fence is shaded in the morning and gets afternoon and evening sun.

I have read/listened/watched a lot of material on no-water systems as the South African Highveld has summer rainfall, in thunder showers with baking hots days so lots of surface evaporation. I am trialling well rotted manure mulch and straw mulch.
Last year I added the bed behind the greenhouse in the winter, put down cardboard and topped it up with the bottom of the muck heap pile from the stables, left it for 3 months before planting in the spring with strawberries and raspberries in the front ( I covered the bed with membrane and planted the strawbs in holes-this was before permaculture!) and the back stayed empty until I planted tomatoes and leeks in the summer. So still monoculture really, i must admit, I am struggling with broadcasting seed everywhere and allowing nature to take it's course! But my aim is essentially water retention in the soil. So I am happy to continue with monoculture at present, I just want to see if they will grow under mulch. I also know the climate conditions are very different between where we are now and SA, I think with the winter rainfall in the UK we actually get less rain in the growing season than SA, so I do have a micro sprinkler system which I try to limit to once a week.

After attending the online food summit, I have decided to trial the deep straw mulch. As I dont think I will get approval to add another bed to the garden, I have started a "hidden garden" in the central area of the horse walker. No one can see it so they wont know it's there! I will attach pictures on my next update-I can only attach 3 files now. My husband cut down the natural vegetation, we covered it with about 8" well rotted horse poo and topped it off with over a foot of straw. I am waiting til the last frost dates pass before planting it with hubbard squash and gem squash. I did put a soaker hose under the straw just in case we need to water.

The other thing I am trying is using chickens to make compost, provide food, kill bugs etc without being fed grains. As I couldn't have them at home, I got permission to put them in a small wood far away from the house. We started with 3 hens from a free range egg farm who were clearing out stock. Then my daughter got 4 battery hens. While I know these aren't at the optimal age for laying lots of eggs, I am thinking they will provide enough eggs for me and my 2 neighbours who save scraps for me. Also, we can give a home to some pretty poor looking chooks who love being out. I'll post pictures when I can.

Phase 4 will be trying meat chickens on the same model.

I am hoping to tie the three ideas into a workable unit to offer a food security system to the communities mentioned above.
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Beds were made with salvaged timber, base of topsoil and topped up with manure twice
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Compost heap at the bottom which I use to top up my beds, shady side last topped up summer '14
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Salvaged greenhouse, salvaged logs for flower feature, salvaged bricks , pots etc
 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
forest garden hugelkultur solar
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The poultry project. All materials are salvaged, hen house is a shipping crate that I cut holes in the sides and fixed on nesting boxes which open on cloth hinges, an old roofing sheet creates pitch . The fence panels are from an old pheasant raising run and the compost bin is made from pallets. You can see the difference in the free range hens and the battery hens, I feel really sorry for the batteries, I wish more people would consider taking on a few-yes, they don't lay as many eggs as point of lay hens but if you are not paying for feed, the eggs are free, you get compost and you'll have a tasty bird when they stop laying altogether! If you decide not to eat them, at least they will have had a better quality of life for a while. The hens free range in the day, the fence was just to acclimatise them to there new space. I'll be re-using that for my broiler experiment. The battery hens have been out for the first time today and all returned safely. The free rangers just pick on the batteries rather badly and I feel terrible shutting them all in together. any ideas how to integrate them better? I clean the house once a week, dump the dirty straw in a pile, turn the compost onto that and add a bucket of well wormed manure to the top of that. All the veggie scraps from 3 households go into the compost bin. This is week 2, 1st turn.
I want to experiment growing beans around the bases of the trees on the edge of the wood, using the chicken compost as mulch
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Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
forest garden hugelkultur solar
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My "secret" garden.
We have a horse walker on site which has an enclosed inner circle with a radius of about 8ft. It gets the sun for about 10 hours a day with some area always in shade except the hours around noon when it is in full sun. There is a small door which provides access to this area which no-one bothers to look in. As I couldn't add more beds in my garden, I decided to try a straw mulch bed in here. As we will need an income stream in SA, I decided to plant a monoculture (squashes) on a bigger scale, hopefully we will have enough of a harvest in the summer to take to the local farmers market. Last year I harvested about 50lbs off the plants I grew up the fence of my garden's left bed.
The straw bed is about 8" well rotted manure topped with a foot of straw with a soaker hose in between. In 2 weeks I will plant the gem squash and hubbard I have raised in the greenhouse. I am well aware that it is recommended to plant seeds direct but that's another issue I am struggling with as I want the extended growing time! I have compromised slightly by growing my seeds in newspaper pots so that the roots don't become pot-bound, the roots are just starting to grow out the sides of the paper pots so there should be minimal root disturbance.
I hope to post more pictures and results as time progresses. Please let me know if you have any advice/tips for any part of my project.
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Galadriel Freden
Posts: 361
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
18
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Hi Sarah, it sounds like you have some ambitious and worthy goals, and you've done a lot with your space already. I look forward to reading more about your project!

I also have adopted ex factory farm hens, although I would like to point out that there are no longer battery hens here or anywhere in Europe, as the battery cages have been outlawed, thank goodness. That said, I do actually have one ex battery hen still alive from those days, who is about 6 years old now. Her one surviving ex bat compatriot died of old age just two weeks ago, after a good long life of grass, bugs, and sunshine in our garden.

To keep our older hens from bullying new adoptees, we kept them separate for at least a week, although we had to let them in together to sleep; we let them mingle for about half an hour before sunset so they could all go to bed. We also practise the paddock shift system across our garden, moving them every 7-10 days, so the chickens have plenty to scratch and peck, without them getting bored and taking that boredom out on each other.

 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
forest garden hugelkultur solar
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Hi Galdriel,
Thank you for your reply and your interest and encouragement.
I used the term "battery" just to distinguish from free range, I suppose I should have said caged although that's a rather ambiguous description considering the conditions of "enriched environment" cages, which are better than the barren cages of the past but still fall far short of meeting the basic requirements of a chicken's needs. As someone who bought "caged eggs" because I assumed that the new laws meant radical changes for chickens, I think I can safely say that unless one actually see the condition of a caged hen or researches what they mean by "enriched environment", one has a very poor understanding of their actual conditions. I am ashamed to say I never really thought to research what it meant and it was only when my daughter brought along these 4 hens that I realised how dismal their lives must have been.

I didn't realise hens could live for so long! You more than ensured that the majority of their lives were lived in the essence of chicken!

We followed the guide lines set out and kept them apart in the small cage at night for the first week, the older girls were excluded from the run for most of the day and allowed social time for a few hours in the afternoon, at first the caged birds would stand their ground and defend themselves but they are now totally cowed. while they are free ranging, there is relative peace but the new girls dont want to go to bed. Last night was their 2nd night together and in the morning they were all crammed into one nesting box! I have heard that a rooster may be helpful? I am hopeful that as they get stronger and regrow feathers they won't be bullied as much.
 
Galadriel Freden
Posts: 361
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
18
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Sarah Joubert wrote:

I didn't realise hens could live for so long!


All of our hens have been rescue hens, and she was certainly the longest-lived! The other few died at around 3-4 years. We still have one 6 year old, and the rest are between 3 and 4 years.

I am hopeful that as they get stronger and regrow feathers they won't be bullied as much.


Depending on the hen, they start to recover their good looks in about a month, in my experience. Their skin turns a nice bright red and their beaks go a bit brown, and then their feathers start to grow in. Last spring we got a couple new ones, and one of them was half naked, poor thing. We named her Plucky. Four weeks later we had a week-long holiday and came back to find Plucky had grown ALL her feathers back. We didn't recognise her!
 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
forest garden hugelkultur solar
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Well, I guess my intentions were good but the realities were far different! I realise I didn't keep my thread updated and as I learned I was being retrenched in Sept I guess my focus shifted elsewhere.

I had mixed success in the garden- my strawberry, radish, beetroot, spinach, chard and kale did well but I still can't grow cauliflower or broccoli! My mesculan mix did well too and my tomatoes started great but got blight before i could harvest any. My runner beans and peas were a total disaster, no crop at all. The season before I had a bumper crop of winter squash, runner beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, leeks and chard. So I guess the summer was not as good this year. I also had problems with slugs decapitating my peas and beans as they were planted and those that survived were weak, pale and stringy. the few plants that did well got mildew very earl and I pulled the lot. I think the manure was not aged enough and I think this affected the nitrogen levels in the soil. But I did not do as much weeding. So a lot to think about. I also think that the high walls on all sides stopped airflow which contributed to blight & mildew. My beds still dried out and I had to water about once a week in the hot dry spells.

The secret garden was also a mixed bag. I had problems with the plants "taking" early on. They also got chopped down by slugs. Those that survived(and these were on the left side which got more sun) did OK-not as good as the ones I planted and trained upward in my garden the previous year-once they got going they spread everywhere and fruited but again, the slugs had a field day! I never watered or weeded once though. I will definitely do this again but not enclosed by walls which restrict the sunlight and I will put down my straw mulch a lot earlier-probably as soon as all plants have died back. I also think that the manure stunted the growth as it was using all available nitrogen to decompose the raw stuff. (I hope I understand the role of nitrogen correctly!) I will also cover the entire area with straw as the edges and inner circle weeds grew onto the straw beds.

The chickens were a learning curve too. My 3 free range girls did very well, they were gregarious and industrious. They loved the weekly addition to the manure pile and enjoyed the scraps and ranged all over the paddocks scratching away. unfortunately they learned that the pick up & quad bike were a source of food (we'd feed the horses and they'd come running over to peck the dribbles) so every time they heard a vehicle they would leg it. we lost 2 this way-my daughter rode over one she didn't see under the quad (her favorite and she was devastated)the other went visiting the water treatment plant next door and got squished by a truck. They were very apologetic, apparently our chickens would squeeze under the gate and "visit" them at lunch time in their tea room. Just another illustration of how inventive chickens can be about sourcing food!
The four caged birds were a sorry sight to start with but were soon pushing out new feathers and at the end you couldn't tell them apart from their neighbours. They were not too keen on the "live" food so we supplemented their food with the sweepings of the horse food messed in the barn. We'd let the "old" bunch out and close the pen allowing us to feed just the caged birds. The old trio were very dominant but did eventually integrate and, except when fed scraps, got on ok with the caged lot. Early on I lost two as they got sick and I had a "knee jerk" reaction and treated them with Baytril instead of going the natural route. It was about 10 days after they arrived and I felt they probably still needed antibiotic treatment as they were used to it. The one died within 2 days and the other got better, sickened, got better, sickened and finally died after about 3 weeks. When the 3rd one started to go downhill I put apple cider vinegar in the water and crossed my fingers. It got better! After that I put raw apple cider vinegar in their water once a week and had no further problems.
The oldies laid reasonably well- enough for us and a half dozen every now and then for the neighbours. We knew it was the oldies as after the 2 got run over we only had the occasional egg. But as their feathers regenerated they did start to lay. After about 6 months we had a fox come visiting. After the first one was killed we started locking them up really early in the afternoon. but it still came back and took 2 more on the same day about a week later. By this time I had had enough, it was heart wrenching to see these girls come so far only to be snuffed out by an enterprising fox. I know it has to eat but there are loads of pheasants and rabbits about! I suppose it was inevitable being that far from any habitation and without any protection but it was hard none the less. I made arrangements to give the last hen to a friend but before she could collect, it also became fox food. I console myself with the thought that they were happy hens-especially the caged ones. They had six months to be chickens again, instead of egg machines. I'm sure it wasn't the nicest way to go, but I,m sure is was quicker than being man handled into a crate, squashed in with loads of other birds and driven to a slaughter house where we all know how they are handled.

I did plant beans around the trees at the edge of the forest and I think it would have been successful if they had been able to establish before the chickens were introduced. They didn't eat the plants but loved scratching through the newly disturbed earth, uprooting the plants as they went. I had no bug damage on the plants, they just died from being out of the ground too much!

The chickens were excellent at creating compost. I would just chuck a heap of rotting manure on once a week and throw house scraps as and when. It was slow to start with- only 3 hens doing the work but I coud see a result after about 5 weeks. As we let the chickens free range after about 3 weeks (two decided to escape long before that!)I suppose this will account for the slow work. You could definitely see the land clearance done when we moved the fence so I think a very good way to clear land of excess vegetation before mulching.

So although we didn't get a large enough crop of squash to sell, and the garden didn't do marvellously well, and the chickens were an emotional rollercoaster, I would definitely do it all again. Integrating the three systems and implementing changes for better yields. I would run my chickens though an established, mulched garden, removing them before they can do damage -sort of like mob grazing cattle. This will reduce the parasites/break cycles while providing soil aeration/fertiliser and providing nutrition to the hens.
All in all it was truly a demonstration of symbiosis and interaction between the various components of a farm and how permaculture design can turn problems into solutions and give food security to many on a small, self sustainable model.

Our last "working" day was 29 Dec 2015. We have taken the "leap", stepped out of the mainstream and are currently looking for land in the Eastern cape to purchase. It has not all gone to plan-lots of vehicle trouble! But we are still optimistic and spending the time researching and learning, gathering resources and studying the landscape and growing climate.

Any advice/observations would be appreciated.




 
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