Life on our property is always ridiculously busy and although we are generally trying many projects at any one time, I only ever blog those that we have tested many times to make absolutely sure they work. I thought in addition to our regular how-to and project blogs, it might be useful to start writing a weekly update about our everyday progress, experiences and impressions of living our simple off-grid life. As you will read below in this first update, this week has been all about animals…
We have been becoming increasingly concerned about the sheer amount of mundane maintenance that our property requires each week. Given the amount of time we actually have available, it was starting to look completely unsustainability long term. Despite the fact that most of our land is unmanaged rainforest, the small percentage that is cleared is seriously high maintenance. There are many things I love about our lifestyle, but cutting grass, pulling out invasive weeds, preventing the rainforest taking over the clearing and picking up all the fruit fall in the orchard is not my idea of fun. Especially when combined with digging and household chores.
Over the past year, we tried many ways to make the mundane tasks easier. First we opted for living mulch to suppress the weeds and grass. Although it worked great in the fenced areas, apparently living mulch is super tasty to grazers and anything not protected was eaten overnight by pademelons (and I can’t really complain because some of them I have raised and released myself!). We also tried making mulch from tree branches using our chipper. The chips were superb around individual plants and had the added advantage of moisture retention, but in our environment the speed the mulch breaks down is so fast that it makes large-scale repeated use more work than actually pulling the weeds! Our fall-back option was using the tractor with a slasher attachment. Admittedly, the tractor does a great job on the weeds and rainforest re-growth but it also compacts the very earth we are working very hard to improve. On top of that, it doesn’t work well on wet grass (and ours is very seldom dry…), requires fuel and time-consuming maintenance and you can absolutely guarantee that when we finally get around to using it…the battery is flat.
Apart from using the tractor, we could find no easy alternative to all of the back-breaking digging…well Graham couldn’t…my solution was to leave most of it to him! We have many plants in no-dig lasagne raised beds, but they are not ideal for crops such as sweet potato, pumpkin, courgette etc that require a lot of space. We also plan to landscape the native plant garden and front of the house this year and have been putting it off as it is currently covered in a thick layer of tough invasive grass and deep-rooted weeds. Digging here is an absolute nightmare, in some places, the soil is so hard and compacted that I have actually bent the prongs of a garden fork trying to loosen it up a bit!
Of course, we already knew the answer to all of our problems…having animals do the work for us. This also has the added advantage of clearing up fruit fall, which is attracting fruit flies and pests and providing free on-site fertiliser, which is costly and time consuming to bring in from elsewhere. We had always planned to add more livestock, but had been holding off to concentrate on the fruit, herbs and vegetables first. The availability of some suitable animals, combined with our ongoing struggle to stay on top of things and need for fertiliser meant we finally decided to bite the bullet. We don’t plan to eat any of our livestock, so took on just enough for them to to do the work needed and have some companionship.
Meet our new landscaping crew…
Pigs (Derek and Rodney)
Two desexed male pigs Derek and Rodney will hopefully make light work of all of the digging, whilst eating fallen fruit (preventing fruit fly in the process) and garden/kitchen scraps and providing top quality manure. Derek and Rodney have a permanent enclosure, but will be used with a portable fence to turn over the earth for planting as and when needed.
Goats (Sam and Dean)
Sam and Dean, our new mixed breed wethers, will help eat the invasive weeds, hold back the rainforest and provide manure for the fruit and vegetables. They are only a few days old at the moment so I am bottle feeding the little guys. This is one repetitive task I am more than happy to take on because, as you can see, they are unbelievably cute! Although females would have given the added advantage of providing milk, they require higher quality expensive feed and must be milked every 12 hours and at the moment we have neither the time or money to take that on.
Ducks (To be named!)
Goats are browsers rather than grazers so are unlikely to keep the grass down. Our new ducks urgently needed a new home and are great egg layers so we decided to take on 6. They are a mix of Welsh Harlequin, Khaki Campbells and some definitely have a bit of Black Duck in them. We spent the weekend building them an enclosure, “Duckingham Palace”, and are so pleased with it that we plan to make one for our chickens sometime in the future too. I’ll write up the construction details of the enclosure later this week for anyone interested.
As you can imagine the new animals have taken up most of our time this week, so progress on the new greenhouse and all other projects has been on hold. Prepare for an influx of blogs on livestock tractors, animal health and husbandry over the coming weeks. Graham is so enamoured with the new additions, he has even offered to write some guest blogs from a vet perspective!