Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tools for self sufficiency

It is an interesting situation to be buying more stuff to work the land to make your own food so you don't have to buy more stuff. Are we just changing what we are spending our money on?
We have bought a ride on mower - in place of our scooter. Animals that fertilise as they eat the grass are a better option but as we are starting out we thought we had better get used to the land before we embark on animal husbandry as well.
I am beginning to understand why getting good at composting early on will be important for not having to buy as many nutrients for our plants.
Tools - we need decent tools to work the land. Decent as in expensive.
If we go solar it is very expensive upfront but immediately we start saving money from the power bill.
There are so many items we could buy. We saw a thought out and well built trailer/wheel barrow but it was $1000 and while it would be useful - do we really need one like that? We decided no.
I thought the balancing finished when we found the property with just the right compromises to our wish list. But I think it keeps being a balancing act between being efficient enough at growing enough food without spending so much to reach a higher efficiency that we have to work more offsite to pay for the extra efficiency gains. It will take a little while until we find our balance point.
Apple trees the orchardists prune with different layers so the fruit gets the maximum amount of sunshine and all the fruit grows evenly. It takes time to get the apple tree like that and continues to require pruning. Will I do that or will I let it grow bushy like a natural apple tree - far less work but lesser quality apples too. As yet I am undecided on the apple tree pruning regime.
So far on the tool buying along with the ride on mower, we have bought a weed whacker/trimmer. We will definitely need an axe. Will the chainsaw be next?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On self sufficiency

Moving to the country and living off our land is not a plan to be completely self sufficient. We won't grow our own flour, or rice or chocolate or coffee or other items not suited to our climate.
In the last few years I taken to looking at self sufficiency on an item by item basis. The big picture can seem so large it is not worth starting to colour in even a corner of it.
Bite sized pieces though make it enjoyable and it needs to be fun and give some form of satisfaction to keep up the habit.
Quince Jelly is my favourite jams I try to make it every year.
This batch is one I remembered to photograph before we starting eating it. 
This year we have been self sufficient in jam. Last year for six months we were self sufficient in soap too. I have some more soap being pressed and dried at the moment.
Each item is another step out of consumerism. As long as we are walking in the right direction however many steps we can take at one time is enough for me.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Second step in gardening - preplanting

Once we had the seeds all labelled, the kids and I planted the seeds. More than my planned amount with aim of reaching the targets in successful germination. I raided the craft box for popsicle sticks to label our seeds.
We are trialling a couple of different seed growing trays.

We have cutdown toilet rolls in an eggbox (free and recycling), - the eggroll design. We planted the pumpkins, zucchinis and crookneck squash seeds in these. Zucchinis all grew and fast. The squashes and pumpkins not so fast and also not such a high germination rate. The crooknecks were the slowest seeds to germinate - from the kids' perspective the seeds were all in a race and the crooknecks lost badly. We learnt after the first planting that the seeds need to be planted vertical with the narrow end facing down. The kids had planted these but when they weren't germinating, I planted some more in the correct orientation. Now they are germinating happily.

Option two was a Mitre 10, 40 seedling box with a lid (approximately $13). This what we planted with capiscums (a mixed seed pack) and brandywine seeds. The brandywines raced ahead in the germination race but since then won't stand up. My attempt to help them stand with toothpicks has about a two plant success rate. I hope when their stems strengthen and as they grow bigger, I will be able to stake them on replanting.

Option three is a plastic tray for bbq meat and a rectangle seedling tray (approximately $7). In this I planted the mortgage lifter tomatoes. These are very sturdy plants and great success rate with germination. The other half of the tray is the crystal apple cucumbers. These started well but have started lying down. The number of healthy plants is dwindling. I keep giving them more water because I think that is the problem.

We used the same potting mix in all of them.
All three solutions seem to be working well. The box from Mitre 10 is the tidiest and easiest to protect the plants because it has a lid. Option 3 the tray on a tray, is the easiest to move around - from inside to outside. The toilet rolls look the less tidy but are working well for the bigger plants of the zucchinis, squashes and pumpkins. I should be able to plant these directly into the ground.
Now the plants are getting bigger, I put them outside each day and bring them in every night. The problem with caring for my plant babies and watering them attentively is while I wanted to not be bothered if this year's gardening amounts to nothing and not expecting self sufficiency in vegetables. I now have a spreadsheet with a column for yield and I don't want to write pitiful.

Friday, November 6, 2015

First step to successful gardening - planning

If you have ever watched anything in which Monty Don gives advice on gardening you would have heard him say planning is the key to success. His garden is tidy, ordered and high producing so I am going to believe him on the planning.
We are not moving in until November (late spring here in the Southern Hemisphere). There is a lot of work to be on the site to get it back under control and the house needs work so I am trying to not get too excited in the garden.
First I made a list of the vegetables we usually eat. In the past with a small garden, I have tended to try different types of produce from what we can get in the supermarket or vegetable shope but this has meant we might not be confident using it and it can go to waste or to seed because we leave it in the garden for too long, while we work what to cook with it.
Once I had my list of vegetables we usually eat, I found a number of sites that tell you how many plants you need to grow per person for a year's supply. I found a brilliant wee calculator but of course I cannot locate it now. I will update this page if I come across it again otherwise these two links give you suggested numbers.
My list as a starting base for family of four for a year:
Asparagus 24 plants
Beans 60 plants
Broccoli 40 plants
Cabbage 40 plants
Carrots 40 plants
Cauliflower 20 plants
Celery 8 plants
Corn 160 plants
Cucumbers 12 plants
Eggplant 4 plants
Lettuce 40 plants
Onions 320 plants
Potatoes 120 plants
Pumpkin 4 plants
Rhubarb 8 plants
Tomatoes 20 plants
Peas 480 plants
Zucchini 4 plants

I have always had good success growing vegetables with King Seeds so I took my list and found out what can be planted in November. This narrowed the list quite substantially. I ordered tomatoes - Brandywine blend and mortgage lifter. Brandywine tomatoes are supposed to be the best tasting in the world. You can read about my last attempts to grow them here. These ones are a blend so I am hoping for more success - will keep you posted.
I also bought capsicums, Blue Lake runner beans, top crop dwarf beans, Florida supersweet corn, crystal apple cucumber (based on success with these last growing season), shallots, Australian butter pumpkin, tall climbing peas, zephyr zucchini, crookneck early summer squash (mostly for the amusing name and because I was onto my free packet of seeds by this stage of the order) and touchon carrots.
King Seeds have great information for each seed type on their website but it is not on each packet. In the past I have been more relaxed and just planted based on my memories of what I had read. This time with Monty Don screaming, "Plan!" I like to try to imagine him doing so because he never seems bothered and is always calm.
Once the packets arrived I looked them all up again and wrote on each packet; total number of seeds, distance between seeds for planting, if I need to stake them, how many I need to plant based on my yearly use calculations. Then I split them into two groups, the ones that needed to be sown in trays now and the ones that I can sow directly once we move.
Peas appear an interesting one. The information suggests either plant them in early spring or late summer. I assume this means they are not keen on high heat, which might explain why mine have died off in other years. So I might plant them in late summer and see what happens.
Shallots also seem to divide the gardening world about whether to pre plant. Monty recommends pre planting but from other reading it seems this just makes them not take so long to reach harvest. I am planning to sow directly and wait for ages until they are ready.
Excel spreadsheets a popular choice on gardening blog sites so I have made my spreadsheet with all the details.
The plant list for pre planting now and direct sowing later in November is:
Pumpkins 4 plants
Brandywine tomatoes 20 plants
Mortgage lifter tomatoes 20 plants
Beans 60 plants of each
Cucumber 18 plants
Capsicum 20 plants
Zucchini 6 plants
Crookneck squash 6 plants
Corn 100 plants
Carrots 1000 plants
Peas 100 plants
Shallots 100 plants
Capsicums 20 plants

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Edible gardening with confidence

One worry I had about growing vegetables is not being any good at it. Other people are very good so my self talk is, we can learn how. We'll get books and through trial and error we will get there. We can buy vegies from the vegetable shop until we get good at it.
I did have an epiphany the other day. My gardens have always been small in size. We have done square foot gardening and gardening in pots. They have always produced. We have had carrots, cauliflower, spinach, kale, strawberries, red currants, peas, broad beans and cherry tomatoes. The amount of each was not great, though as you can see size was sometimes excellent. We did get a bumper harvest of tomatillos from very few plants. If you want to feel successful at gardening, tomatillos definitely help. You will need to enjoy them though. We grew ours from seed and they did take over more than their square of the square foot garden. This was my 'aha' moment. We can garden. This time we will be planting more because we will have the space. Even at my current success rate that should increase our haul of produce. Having small gardens can make you feel inadequate compared to the amount of produce of others. Also small gardens usually means compromises in sun positioning for maximum yields. I am now looking forward to seeing the results of planting more plants and having the space to choose the right place to put them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A new adventure in living off the land

So we had this plan when the kids had grown up and left us, to buy a place and grow our own vegetables, do the self sufficientish thing, living the "good life" or homesteading as they call it in US. Then we were challenged, "Why wait?"
We met other people who were doing it. I wrote this article, which gave me a chance to ask a heap of questions I also wanted answered.
We began planning to jump right in now.
Finding the right property took about a year. But we are on the verge of taking possession. It was difficult task of working out the compromise on the amount of land, the house, the distance from a town and the price. The whole plan is only going to work if the mortgage is easy for us to pay off in a short time.
So this will be our journey of trying to do be self sufficient to some degree but more about a not being over consuming and stepping out of the current world view to buy the latest, having an impressive house and work long hours for someone else to achieve it.
I am expecting it to be an interesting and challenging ride. So far from the books we've been reading, it seems any such adventure is going to contain learning by mistakes and a lot of work. Others are also keen to tell us how much work it is going to be. It is going to be a lot of work but it will be for us and to feed us - we love tasty food. And really all it is, is a house with a bigger back yard.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The house the children built

Sometimes following unusual signs can exceed all expectations. This particular detour also made me think good education is just good education - no matter what the latest label.
The sign said 'historic miniature bungalow' and is not far from Moana and Lake Brunner on the Greymouth side.
Driving down the straight road we all had a guess at what we might find. Someone's idea of a tourist attraction at a high price or a disappointing dollhouse bungalow perhaps?
What we found at the very end of street was Kotuku's old Jack's Mill School. In it's grounds was a 1/2 sized bungalow with 3/4 sized walls designed and built by eleven and twelve year old children back in the late 1930s. Unfortunately it is only open on Sundays  and it was Monday so we weren't able to walk through it and see the purpose built 1/2 sized bath, the running water, the built-in lounge seat and folding dining room table.

The sign explained it all. A Mr Edward Darracott didn't feel the children were being taught skills that would be useful once they left school so he came up with the plan to build the bungalow. He is quoted on a sign in the school grounds as saying, "Too long has the school been divorced from life as it is to be lived by the child afterwards."
He also said, "The child should be taught to think for himself, not take his lessons spoon-fed from the hands of the lecturer. More still, this training to think and to act should be in a situation as life like as possible."
Today one might use the terms '21st century learning' or 'experiential learning' or 'inquiry learning'. Mr Darracott was doing it in 1938 because it made sense. He had the community supporting the project and the bungalow building did not get any additional funding from the education board of the time. The children learnt not just bricklaying, carpentry, paint and plastering but also book keeping, surveying, letter and report writing - a rounded education. They even made their own carpet and organised insurance. Any school project that becomes a category one listed historic place is surely worth top marks.
It wasn't Mr Darracott's first change to the school either. When he arrived in 1935 he found the grounds and the surroundings gloomy, swampy and "despondent". He decided to get the children to improve their environment by creating a garden with concrete paths on the compass points.
His reason being, "Surely if beautiful thoughts and ideals are to be inculcated in the minds of these children, radical changes must be wrought in their surroundings as well as in their attitude of mind towards the finer issues of life."
The school shut in 1955 but the bungalow has since been restored. Some of the students who had originally designed and built it were involved in the restoration. It seems this learning lasted a life time.
Interestingly a few days later I was talking to secondary school student who was considering building a tiny house as part of his homeschool work. Being an advocate of the 'new' approach to education of emphasising experiential learning tailored to the needs of individual children, I am sure Mr Darracott would approve.
You can read more about the site on the DOC website.
We loved Sammy the starfish rockery

Another surprise in the school grounds.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.