Sunday, July 31, 2016

Restoration Agriculture with Mark Shepard

I've been working in the yard, and haven't had a chance to write about it. Mostly because I have a dozen, half finished projects on the go. However, in between I've viewed some video's, and would like to share the ones I was most impressed with.

I've not heard of Mark Shepard before, but now I'm glad I have. Because he's the first person I've seen address permaculture on a large scale, to feed civilisation. Joel Salatin does a great job of talking about the responsibility of taking care of the environment we grow our food in, but Mark Shepard talks about the destructive nature of annual crops and seeks to address it through perennial farms.

It's very educational. If you eat food, you should watch this.




If you also want to learn more about some of the details of setting up a perennial farm, there's another video utilising alley cropping, on Mark's, New Forest Farm. It's made by the University of Wisconsin, in their series on agroforestry.




Also, in this agroforestry series, is a video on Silvopasture, which is the running of animals, in the perennial system. The difference between Joel Salin's model and Mark's is, Joel is mimicking the prairie system, while Mark brings the animals into the forest.




Watching these video's has helped me understand how farmers can change the way they grow food. It's also helped me understand, how we can manage our own vegetation better. While I won't be doing it on the scale of a farm, I can scale to size, on our five acres.

Which leads me to the last video I'd like to share. It's made by the University of Guam (not to do with Mark Shepard) and deals specifically with windbreaks, hedgerows and alley cropping.




All this information has helped me see how we can make adjustments in our landscape, with a more permanent vision in mind. I hope you enjoy watching all these videos.

If you only watch one, however, make sure it's the first one. As it's the first time I've seen the way we feed our civilisation via annual crops, as destructive. Not because of all the usual suspects, such as chemicals and fossil fuels (although that is part of it) mainly because annual crops, by "nature", require destruction, in order to eat them.

Annual crops were never meant to be our staple diet. They were only meant to be complimentary to a broader system, that is permanent by nature.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Weeds as feed

Last Spring, I received a request to post about the weeds I feed my chickens. I already fed most of them to the chickens, by that point, but intended to post about it, when a new flush of weeds made an appearance. So here I am, finally writing that post about the free weeds I feed my chickens.


Chickweed


The most prolific weeds I feed them, would have to be chickweed (aptly named, of course). It only makes an appearance when there's moisture and the temperatures are low. The higher temps will send it to flower and escalate it's decline. Which doesn't make them as palatable to the chickens. Although, they'll still eat them, if its the only greens they have access to.

Chickweed will die off in the hotter months (late Spring to early Autumn) so while its prolific, its also temporary. I grab swathes of it, by the handful, and throw them into the coop.


Dandelion


Good old dandelion is a tasty treat too. It prefers the same conditions as chickweed, but is more palatable than chickweed, after setting flower. I pluck individual leafs where I can, and the chickens will break pieces off by shaking it in their beaks. Or they'll pull it apart between each other, when there's a tussle for ownership.

While dandelion will have a longer growing season than chickweed, it's not as prolific. I find my numbers of self-seeding dandelions are reducing every year, as I improve the soil. Dandelions love compacted soil, and are nature's tillers, with their large tap roots.


Milk thistle - Prickly Lettuce


If there was candy for chickens, this would be it. Milk thistle, not to be confused with the Scottish thistle, with large purple flowers. I call it milk thistle, since that's what my grandfather introduced to me, on his farm. He said the milky-white sap was a great cure for warts, and it was. In terms of chicken food, this is their absolute favourite. No wonder, as it's the closest relative of the cultivated lettuce.

More so than the dandelions, however, I've noticed they are becoming rarer in the garden. That's because the kangaroos and hares all think its herbivore candy too. Their favourite stage to eat them down, are young, like the image above. I'll pull the whole lot up by the roots, preferably when its bigger than in the image. The chickens peck at the leafs, and they break apart easily. They do prefer milk thistle before it flowers, but will still eat it, after it has.


Ribwort


The next weeds are a little more bitter, so the chickens will eat less. But I still pop them in, because its medicinal and adds variety. The above is Ribwort Plantain. Bitter weeds can help stave off worms and other nasties which can sometimes enter their stomachs. They just don't need a lot of it though. So an occasional food, not a daily one.

I pull the whole lot up by the roots, and throw into their coop. It makes it easier for the chickens to pull apart, when there's more mass.


Dock


Another of the bitter weeds I feed them occasionally, is dock. It looks a little like horseradish, and is often confused with it. Dock is a relative of the buckwheat family though.

Like ribwort, the leafs are tougher and bitter, so chickens won't delight on them as much. I notice the native herbivores will eat these down too, if the grass isn't growing. So its not really a weed I can rely on, most of the time. It's best eaten when young. Not easy to pull up by the roots, so I will pluck several leaves and give them to the chickens with a bunch of other weeds at the same time.


Cobbler's pegs - Farmer's friends


What I feed the chickens the most, because its prolific nearly all year round (and isn't too bitter) is good, old-fashioned cobbler's pegs. Also known as farmer's friends. I can feed them young and tender, like the swathe of new ones emerging, in the image above. Or I can pick them when they're bigger, and have gone to flower. They're very easy to pull up from the soil.


Flowering Cobbler's pegs


This image, is the cobbler's pegs, most people are familiar with. They have tiny yellow flowers, which turn into black, sticky seeds, that catch on your clothes as you brush past. I don't know why they're called "farmer's friends", but I'd have to say, they're a popular source of free feed, I can pretty much rely on throughout the season. So they're kind of like a friend.

When everything else has bitten the proverbial dust, I can be certain to find these somewhere in the garden. The only annoyance they really give me, is in autumn, when they've gotten away on me. I'll know it, as soon as every piece of clothing comes into the house, with scratchy seeds attached.

They annoy me, only because I could have turned them into eggs sooner. As I patiently pluck them out of my clothes, I think of attacking them better next year, to feed my hungry egg makers. I know I'll never eradicate these weeds, and I won't be poisoning them, so relegated to egg making, it is.


More chickweed


There's only one weed I didn't get to take pictures of, because it takes longer to produce fruit. The chickens eat the fruits, not the leafs, as those are quite toxic. They are the black fruit of the deadly nightshade. One bush can produce a lot of fruit and it's not just the chickens that love them. Every native bird here, comes to rely on the self-seeding deadly nightshades.

I pluck the fruit and throw in handfuls. The chickens go nuts over them. Be sure to only pick the black berries however, as any with green, have higher doses of solanine present, and overdosing can be unpleasant. All the weeds I've outlined here however, are all naturally occurring. I haven't done anything, but glean the harvest. These weeds can also be fed to guinea pigs (except the deadly nightshade) who often get several helpings from me, a day.

So next time you think a weed is getting in your way, turn it into a free source of chicken food, instead. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Chicken scraps

Every winter we have a family tradition, involving roast chicken. It's our special meal of the week. We're not the only ones, who get to enjoy this family tradition however. Our chickens, get to help us clean up the dishes afterwards too.

By that I mean, they get to enjoy our scraps, the next day. Not only do we turn those sticky, fatty, leftovers, into another hearty meal for our chooks, but it's also, a more environmentally friendly way to clean up after ourselves.


Roasting pans from the night before


If you have stale bread, or crusts too thin to eat, put them aside and use them to wipe out the roasting pan. We generally use two roasting pans to feed our family of four. One used pan collects all the scraps, and the other is washed out with boiling water first. Then the water is tipped into the other pan, and wiped over with some bread to make it clean. No need for kitchen towels.

We like to dice our bread afterwards, using a large chef's knife, to make it easier for the chickens to eat. Though you don't have to, if only planning to feed the bread to the chickens.


All traces of fat are gone


You will find bread is a lot more absorbent, than paper towels. So it sucks up all that fat, leaving very little residue behind. We're fortunate to get our bread scraps from David's workplace. They do a lot of sandwich trade, and ditch all their crusts. We have six hens and one rooster, so we roughly portion them each a slice.

This substitution trick, using bread instead of kitchen towels, can also be used elsewhere.


Just add water


David always smears the skin of our roast chicken, in a blend of oil, flour and various spices. It's dried in the bowl by the next morning, so we pour in some boiling water and swish it around to clean. Once poured into the other roasting pan, you can clean out the bowl with more bread.

You can even use the bread to clean up the dinner plates, because a slice of bread can soak up a lot of residue

As we have a septic system to treat all our water, we need to avoid putting any fats or oil down the sink. That's if we want it to last. Feeding our chickens this way, however, helps us in that endeavour. If we weren't using bread, we'd be using kitchen towels.


Bacon rind


When making up our chicken scraps, we always find other things to put in their food as well. Like the bacon rind we cut off our bacon. The chickens always enjoy looking through their food for any bits of meat. It's the first thing they do.

We also like to use vegetable leftovers as well. Which is where David's workplace, comes in handy again.


Dicing tomato ends


With a lot of sandwich trade, you're going to use a lot of tomatoes. So when David is prepping the tomatoes at work, he puts aside the tops and bottom, in a bucket. Then when they arrive home, I chop them up and disperse among the chicken food. When there's an extra large surplus of tomato scraps, I'll put some in the fridge to keep from growing mould, and use it the next day, and so on.


Ready to grate 


Whenever there is reduced produce at the store, we grab it for us, or the chickens. In this case we had carrots which were marked down for quick sale. I gave the chickens the carrot tops the day before, and grated a few carrots to go in their daily mix of food. I did this when I realised we had better carrots in the fridge, and the chickens could have these.

When making up food, we like to use a lot of vegetable scraps. It gives them a more balanced diet.


Ready to chop


Which is why I'll always include some form of green vegetable as well. In this case, it's flat leaf parsley, which is growing wild in our yard at the moment. I might as well put it in the chicken food, if we cannot get around to eating it, before it goes to seed.

Other options for greens, are celery leaves if I have them, grated zucchini in the glut season, and the stiff outer leaves of lettuce, which I slice thinly. I've even been known to cook our frozen peas, if I don't have any other green vegetables to put in.


Cooked for 2 minutes in the microwave


Just as a winter treat, I feed the chickens, a cup of cooked traditional oats too, which I purchase from the supermarket. Oats are a warming food in winter, which is why I will only give this treat during the cooler months.

All these bits and pieces, are gradually added to the original scraps pan, before mixing it all together.


Adding ingredients


You may be wondering why we go to so much trouble to feed our chickens like this? There are several important reasons. Firstly, we invested in chickens to grow our own eggs, and during winter they have the extra chore of keeping warm. So by feeding them hearty meals, we continue good egg production throughout winter. In fact, its summer, where our chickens go off the lay. As it's too hot and stressful for them.

Another important reason to feed our chickens this way, is because they live in a permanent coop. They only get the nutrients we feed them. If we don't feed them a balanced meal, they cannot go anywhere else for it. A meal like this is also a lot more interesting to chickens, than a feeder with layer mash or grains - even though ours still have one in the coop.

The reason its more interesting to chickens, is because they get to hunt around for their favourite morsels, and compete with each other in the process. Which helps to keep them mentally stimulated. If your chickens can free range or are moved around in a chicken tractor, it's not so important. For those with chickens in permanent coops however, we have to bring the stimulating environment to them. Sharing interesting and varied meals, is how we do that.


Ready to serve


Besides all those reasons, it's more environmentally friendly to feed our chickens, by getting an extra meal out of the food miles, we purchase for ourselves. The rubbish collectors, don't even get to cart our food scraps away, because we're turning them into eggs at home.

Our chicken scrap meals, vary with the seasons too. In winter, its a lot of roasting fats and vegetables. In summer it's more fruit, veg and seeds from the excess produce we consume and grow. Between winter and spring, it's the season for prime weeds here. That's when they are at their nutrient best anyway. We get weeds year round (therefore, so do the chickens) but between winter and spring, is when they are at their prime.

I'm always looking for new ways to feed our chickens, so I'll probably always have something to share on this subject. Do you feed your food scraps to the chickens?


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Quick update

Just letting everyone know I'm still around. I damaged my arm muscle recently, and until a day ago, it was excruciating to type. Anything I managed was one handed.





Rather than dwell on sorry appendages, I thought to share a photo of more dexterous times, at Lake Apex in Gatton. I could blissfully use both arms, back in early June.

In the meantime, I'll be out of commission for another week. Move those shoulders and elbows for me people, as a nod to your fabulous, flexible limbs! I will join in the partying soon.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

About livestock

In my recent posts about permanency, I touched on the subject of keeping animals. I suggested, necessary infrastructure on the land, comes first, before getting too carried away with livestock. I may have given the impression, however, you cannot have any animals at all.

It is possible to keep some animals before you've gotten all your building projects completed. After all, it could take years. But remember to keep permanency in mind, by practising some limitations too.


Black Pekin pullets - 2008


I personally didn't need to keep as many heritage breeds as I did, in the first few years. It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about different breed traits. However (ironically) in the end, I realised I just wanted a healthy chicken, which could provide eggs.

Now I just keep layers of mixed variety. ISA Browns, to be specific, but we plan to keep a rooster and breed our own, Gully Grove variety. Which will simply comprise of whatever rooster we can get for free. We recently acquired one, which is part ISA Brown and part Leghorn. He's a lovely fellow. We'll keep one coop, several layers and one rooster at a time.


Bantam Orpingtons (blue rooster, black pullets) - 2009


I recommend this is how you should start with chickens on property, if you need to practice economic restraint. Attempt to find whatever chickens are available for as little cost as possible (free in some cases) in your area. As long as you can acquire a rooster, then you can incubate the subsequent eggs. That's if you don't have a broody hen, to incubate the eggs and do the rearing for you.

This simple set-up means you don't have to keep buying new hens, for reliable egg supply. You can breed your own - year in, year out. It's a wonderful way to introduce yourself (and any children) to keeping chickens too.

Limiting yourself from the beginning, ensures what you start with, has a better chance of succeeding. Or, if you discover you don't like keeping chickens, you haven't spent a great deal of money, to learn that lesson.


 Lavender Araucana rooster - 2009


The question of whether to build a permanent chicken coop, or mobile chicken tractor, can only be answered by what your land (and you) can provide. There were reasons we went with permanent coops, rather than the tractors, and everyone's reasons will vary.

I would however, recommend a permanent coop, if you don't have the time to move a mobile tractor around. After all, that is the key part of their design to keep chickens healthy, happy and productive. Or if, like us, you don't have enough flat land to run them on, a permanent coop is better suited.


 Newly constructed chicken tractor - 2008


Chicken tractors are more economical on building supplies, plus they allow chickens to be moved to fresh food. Which can ultimately, reduce the cost of feed you have to purchase. If you're just starting out and can use mobile tractors, it makes more financial sense to do so.

If a permanent coop suits your situation better however, you can reduce costs of building one, by searching for second hand materials, online, or at garage sales. You can even reuse wooden shipping pallets. These are often given away for free, by businesses who would otherwise have to pay to have them carted away. Heck, I even reused an old cot, in my first permanent chicken coop.


 Recycled, wooden babies cot - 2008


Of all the livestock you can keep, chickens are probably the easiest. But they're also the most prone to predators. So whatever accommodations you make, ensure they are offered as much protection as possible.

I have no experience with keeping larger livestock, such as goats, sheep, pigs or cattle. Simply because most of our energies and resources, have been spent, creating flat land. If you have the land though, and can dedicate some resources to keeping larger livestock - the same practice of limitations apply.


 Gold Lace Wyandotte pullet - 2009


Start by setting up a few animals, successfully, at first. Be conservative with building accommodations, but also make sure it's secure. Any design, which can incorporate free feed options, should be considered too. Even with a permanent coop, we have found pigeon peas to be an excellent, no hassle, free feed, for our chickens. So we incorporate them around our chicken coops and gardens. If you don't have the climate for pigeon peas, try growing easy greens instead.

Free feed can also be found, by giving chickens: garden weeds, fruit 'n veg past their prime, including the offcuts and their seeds. Even your leftover dinner scraps will do. Clean a roasting tray of fat, by using a piece of bread instead of kitchen towels, and give it to your chickens. They will love it. Ours do.


Barnevelder pullet - 2009


By placing most of your effort on being conservative with your resources though, it will be an easier venture to manage over the life of it. Being enthusiastic about keeping livestock is great. Just avoid creating such an enormous chore, it starts taking away most of your time and resources. Especially, as you will be busy setting up, other aspects of your property.

So with that in mind, keep the numbers of animals, in check too. Make sure its only what you can afford to keep, and what you can realistically manage. Otherwise it could become a wasted venture, in the end. Only succeeding at delaying you, from reaching the goal of permanency.


 Black Australorp Rooster - 2012


Don't be surprised if (like us) you have to reassess what you're doing, and change things to suit your circumstances. You haven't failed at keeping animals. The compass is set to keeping the land viable, under your tenure, is all. Only you can give yourself, the flexibility to achieve that.

While I've enjoyed sharing some photos of my old Heritage Breeds, in this post, don't be tempted to think, I got my money's worth. Not as it turned out. Because as gorgeous as all those birds were (I loved each and every one) at the end of the day, it was easier to just go with whatever bird was affordable, and preferably (in the case of roosters) free. Because it's only over time and compounded effort, the real cost is accounted for.


 ISA Brown x Leghorn cockerel - 2016
17 weeks old (free)


My hat goes off, to anyone who does dedicate their time to breeding heritage chickens, however. There's nothing wrong with that vocation, if you're set up for it. We had a lot more work, it turned out, setting up our property from scratch, than I initially anticipated. Which is why I eventually went with, whatever was the most cost effective approach.

There is no, good - bad equation to keeping chickens. Heritage Breeds. Cross Breeds. Or any other livestock, for that matter. Just remember to put what works for the land (and your efforts, setting up) first. Because that is what will keep the wheels of your entire venture, running, well into the future.




For one final bit of inspiration, I wanted to share a short 3 minute video, demonstrating a chicken coop, being made from pallets. It showcases what is possible with cheap (often free) materials. Or you can visit their website for more detailed information. All freely shared.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Choko virtuoso

The humble choko, otherwise known as the Chayote, shares the same family as cucumbers, squash and melons. Choko tends to be loved by some people, hated by others, but mostly, ignored by the masses. That's because it's not a very exciting vegetable, despite its many benefits.


Sprouting choko for growing, not eating


It's major downside, is that it's quite bland in flavour. Plus it has a gummy resin, which dries on your skin, when peeling. Using kitchen gloves, avoids this problem, and the resin is harmless. Its just a nuisance to get off.

The upside of choko, outweighs these minor issues in comparison. As a crop, they're incredibly easy to grow. They tolerate drought, once established and will survive frost. They will die back, but regrow with the warm weather again. What's more, they are prolific producers.


Choko vine - 2014


It's an old tradition in Australia, to grow a choko vine, over the chicken coop. I've personally done this in the past, and regret having to remove the vine, when I renovated the chicken coop, back in 2015. They really help to cool the temperature down, for your chickens during summer. Plus its reminiscent of the jungle environment, where chickens originated from. So you will have some content chickens.

The very best asset of owning a choko vine however, is they're great at bulking up meals, for very little effort and cost.


Choko & fruit tart - 2012


I have made Choko & fruit tart before, and you couldn't tell it had choko in it. Because the beauty of having such a bland vegetable as choko, is how it will take the flavours of the dish, without imposing its own flavour. So it tastes, just like the sweetened apple and cinnamon, of the original recipe. The choko just makes your flavourful ingredients, stretch a little further. Very economical.

I've also made Choko Chutney (all choko) and Fruit chutney (substituting choko for other fruit). This relatively cheap condiment, substitutes tomato and barbeque sauce, on my meat dishes and fried eggs. It's spicier than barbecue sauce and you won't ever miss bland, tomato sauce again.


 A small selection of the single batch


Because your choko vines will bless you with so many fruit, you can make chutney quantities in bulk too. I regularly use it to flavour my curry and casserole dishes, without having to worry about what a 500ml bottle cost. Plus, I keep reusing the jars, by making preserves - so less waste to deal with.

The humble choko, deserves a revival in everyone's back yard. Just learn to appreciate its many qualities, rather than focusing on the minor downsides. If you want to learn how to stretch your pennies in meal planning, you simply have to grow a choko vine in your back yard.

Recently I made a curry, with choko. Remember the couple I told you about, a few days ago? This used some choko from their vines, which they kindly gifted.


Dinner recently


Can you see the choko, amongst the other vegetables? You won't taste it either, because it takes on the flavour of spicy curry. If you would like to know, how I made this curry, with a bunch of leftovers and some bad fruit, read on.


Ingredients


We always have leftover meat and vegetables from roast dinner. We like to make other meals with the leftovers - curry being my absolute favourite. Because you can get away with throwing almost anything in it, and still have it taste delicious. This is leftover lamb, pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot.

It's best if you can use the smaller, younger, chokos for cooking. As they have less sticky substances on them (you will need a rubber glove when peeling), and they're more tender. The ones we were gifted recently, were perfect.


Diced choko and onion


The larger your choko, try boiling the diced pieces in water for 20 minutes, before starting any cooking process with it. Because they are much tougher. I peeled my three small to medium sized chokos. They were diced slightly larger than the onion. Both went into the frying pan at the same time.


Frying choko and onion


Once the onion was brown, the choko had become a little more translucent. But its nowhere near cooked yet. Choko holds its form, extremely well and takes a great deal of overcooking to make it break up. I have yet to see that happen, I might add, and I've made a lot of chutney.

Next, chop the meat and leftover vegetables up, tossing them in the frying pan for a little bit. Add the curry powder (a heaped tablespoon and a bit - or whatever strength you like), some garlic and a can of coconut cream. You can use regular cream, if its all you have. I also use about a cup (250ml) of my home made, choko chutney. You can use whatever sauce/condiment preferences you have in the pantry. Leftover roasting juice and fat, can also be used instead, if you saved it from the night before.

My favourite curry though, are sweet curries. Which is why I always throw in some extra fruit. Even if it isn't particularly good fruit...


Funny fruit


This pear was starting to rot at the top. Once peeled and cut back however, it was mostly okay. I also put a banana or two in, plus a few handfuls of sultanas. This is my mother's recipe for curry, but really add whatever you need to use up. That's what leftovers are good for.


Ready to simmer


For a touch of fibre, I also add shredded coconut, as the final ingredient. And don't forget the frozen peas. Then you put the lid on, and let it simmer gently for about 45 minutes to an hour. The choko should be cooked and when you eat it, you won't be able to distinguish it from anything else in the pot. It's all curry, so its all good!




So attempt to track down a choko from a friendly neighbour, or just at the fruit store. Spring is only a few months away now. Once your choko sprouts, and the danger of frost is over, your fruit will be ready to go in the ground and smother whatever you plant it near. A trellis, chicken coop, fence or just a pile of garbage you want to hide for the season.

I'm making a new place for a choko, this spring, myself - thanks to our neighbours recent act of generosity.

Choko - a weird, but economical crop to grow for your family's table.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Our permanency tenure



Gully Grove - 2007


Who are those people, nearly ten years ago? All of 32 and 33, years of age. Bright-eyed. Ambitious. Completely naive, to what was ahead. This is a selfie we took, before the term "selfie", went viral. We were standing in the lower gully, for the first time, as owner-occupiers. That meant we were now living on our 5 acres, not just coming to visit.

This was an important moment, because we were finally altering the course of how we wanted to live. What we were not prepared for, was how to make that change. Especially, with the new burdens, managing acreage would suddenly place upon us. So naturally, we got a few things wrong.

Those first choices in the beginning, is how to set yourself up for permanency. So perhaps you'd like to learn some things from our experience?


Earthworks before building - 2006


When starting with raw land, you're effectively putting everything on the map. So it helps to outline your priorities. What you want to avoid, when deciding upon your priorities, however, is the luxuries trap. If you've been dreaming about owning land for a while, you'll naturally want to put those luxuries first. Remember my first post about ponies, motorbikes and chickens? Necessary infrastructure, however, should be your main focus. Not a dime should be spent on anything less.

What do I mean by necessary infrastructure though? It all starts with the earthworks. Speak to your neighbours. See who they employed as earth movers. Word gets around, about who knows their stuff and who is just an expensive poser. We only learned of our neighbour's recommendations, after we hired our house building company to take care of the earthworks for us. They got the lowest bidder, to do the work.

The earthworks were okay, but they had flaws which would appear over time. So we had to fix things, later on. Things we thought we had already paid for. So let this be a lesson with earthworks - the very foundation, to launch your project from. Get someone who knows what they're doing. A house building company will tell you, they can take care of it. But remember they make a profit, by getting the lowest bidding professional to do the job.


Driveway half completed - 2007


With earthworks, you also need a decent, all-weather, access road. This ultimately determines, what vehicles can enter your property. So again, its important to consult with someone who knows about building access roads. We had our construction company determine this too, and they gave us the shortest driveway possible.

We paid for concrete up the top, to get our vehicles out, but it took another seven years, before we actually finished the rest of the driveway with concrete, grid pavers. Because money is harder to come by, and more in demand, once that main flush of money is gone.


Driveway nearly complete - 2014


Don't delay, building that all weather, access road in the beginning, otherwise you'll risk being isolated in bad weather, and most certainly damaging the underside of your vehicles. Before we installed the pavers, we had our exhaust pipe repaired, several times. We didn't make the connection with our driveway at first. It was several years after, our mechanic finally asked (after the third repair) what kind of driveway we had. Dips and bumps, take their toll on vehicles, and the road will only get worse.

This is all money, which could have been saved, if we got our priorities right. It starts with understanding your land - what it lends itself to, and what it doesn't, will determine the priorities you need to make.

Because our land was sloped, retaining walls suddenly became a priority for us too. Slopes require a vertical solution, to make flat land. Take this into consideration when purchasing land in the first place. If it's on a slope, factor in the costs of retaining walls. We didn't fully appreciate how many retaining walls, we'd need.


January - 2008


Here I am, on our second day of hand excavation, for our first retaining wall ever. This first wall, would be one of many in our tenure ship. Considering we finished building one, just last year, retaining walls have spanned seven years already.

It does take that long, to find the money for such worthwhile projects. Plus, the more responsibilities you put on your plate, the less time you will have to complete projects. Naturally, the more you can get done, early in the piece, the more time you can dedicate to running the rest of your life.

This is not permission to rush ahead to get things finished. Rather, its incentive to plan well, in advance.


White, post fence, in the background
built by our neighbour, with the intention of keeping horses


Fencing is another necessary infrastructure, which often gets overlooked. If you have any children, it will keep them safe (especially around dams) and if you're going to bring a dog with you, secure fencing is essential for them too. This fencing rule, goes for any animal you wish to contain on your property. Contain, being the key word here. If you bring it in, its your responsibility to keep it in.

We don't have much fencing, because its more difficult to fence on slopes. We addressed containing our chickens, with a fully enclosed, spacious chicken coop instead. You could also build chicken tractors, for more portable options, and they're generally cheaper to construct - as they use less materials.

It's a sensible idea to limit the livestock and pets, until you have the fencing sorted. Just because you have land, doesn't mean you can open Noah's Ark on it, as soon as possible. You're planning for permanence, and staying on the land, for as long as possible, is the compass to make decisions by. Which is why I don't have goats yet *wink*.


Partly buried 5000 gallon, rainwater tank - 2008


Secure roofing and guttering will prolong the life of your house too. But it will also collect rainwater. Which you will need to buy and have installed, rainwater tanks. That's plural. Storage capacity, should be a minimum of 10,000 gallons worth, if its your only water supply. I wish we came across this fact, when our builders recommended a single 5,000 gallon tank. It does the job, so long as we receive regular rainfall.

When the rain stops for months, however, we have to resort to buying water in. Luckily, only twice, in our nearly decade of living here.

Dams and bore water, may become necessary additions to your rainwater supply, at a later date too. But rainwater (given you have the roofing) should be your priority,. As its cheaper to install than drilling a bore. Plus, it will cause less corrosion to any metal pipes, in the house. So calculate what you will need for your household use, and any animals you wish to keep. Then buy the appropriate sized tanks.


Septic treatment tank, 2009 - running 24/7


While I'm mentioning water though, how are you going to treat it, after its been used? What kind of septic system will you install? This will have to meet Council regulations, and your budget. Do your research well, because maintaining the septic, will also be an annual expense. Not to mention paying for the electricity, to run it all the time. There are different septic designs and pumps, which claim to reduce operating costs.

Inspections to meet Council regulations for maintenance though, can be anywhere from once, to four times a year. That's every year. These are not optional visits, and it all depends on what septic system you have installed. I cannot go past mentioning the compost toilet system, though, because it uses a valuable resource and saves water too.

Your Council may not give you this option when building, but you can always implement a compost toilet later. After your priorities are sorted. Especially for emergencies, like we experienced during the 2011 Queensland floods. We needed a way to deal with our waste, in a non-toxic manner. Because we didn't have running water, or electricity to our septic. The simple compost loo, and sawdust, worked however.


Property power pole - installed 2006


Which brings us to organising the electricity supply (on or off grid). If you choose on-grid, where will they locate your power poles on the property? Hopefully not where you want to develop infrastructure later on. So decide beforehand, or those installing them, may influence your decision, based on what's easiest for them.

If you're planning to go off-grid with your power though, you can start with a small system and build it up later. However, you can always go bigger in the beginning, by forgoing the luxuries you imagine are necessary too. Think pony, versus, more PVC's?

The point of this post, is not to make the task of setting up, seem so discouraging. Its about remembering the impact of our choices, are always long term. So what will become your plan for permanency tenure, when you set up?


  A single 3x3m metal, kit shed - 2009
and still our only outside storage area


A rather under-represented subject now, when it comes to setting up raw land, is outside storage. It will become THE most important investment over the life of your property. Because you'll have to start storing fencing supplies and new tools, which are often bulky. Along with trailers that will multiply, and perhaps the kinds of vehicles you'll drive to access the property, will increase too.

What will definitely multiply like rabbits though, are vegetation management tools. We have three mowers, two brush cutters and one whipper snipper  - not all working, as some are used for spare parts. A wood chipper, a chain saw, axes and all manner of hand and electric tools, make the rest. If you don't house this equipment permanently, undercover, you will halve their life expectancy. Which doesn't make for good economics, when you rely on those tools and materials to manage the property.


We should have started with something, more like this
* but we still need to come up with the funds


A basic minimum outside storage option, on raw land, should be a double bay, fully enclosed garage. Arrange to store the cars under a separate carport, instead; because you will use every inch of that garage, to house your tools and supplies.  It wouldn't be a stretch to add a lean-to, on the side of the garage either. To store extra hay, stack firewood or at least store the trailer. It sounds like a lot, but it won't be enough. It's only the basic start up.

Notice how I haven't paid much attention to the actual house design, or animal shelters which may be required? In the scheme of things, the house design should be the last on your priorities list. Even in suburbia, Council first builds the roads, then installs the sewage and power, to connect to the municipal supply. Then, and only then, can property owners, consider having their houses built. While housing is important, its the land which needs to be set up first.


Newly constructed house, 2007


If I can pass on anything, about the balance between setting up the house and setting up the land - it is to take the time required, to set up the land, first. We were enticed by our building company, who were only interested in our money. In our ignorance, they made it very easy to hand over. They had the intention, to build a sound house, but they relied heavily on cheap subcontractors, to do all the groundwork. Which meant, our landscape was treated like a commodity in a system of mass production.

We have spent a great deal of time, and funds, attempting to redress that inappropriate solution. We should have taken our time, setting up the land, by hiring our own experts. Then we could approach a building company, last of all.


Earthworks, by hand


The caution of this tale being to avoid shooting yourself in the foot, to begin with. If you have to manage your landscape for decades, with a less than functional system, it will wear you down.

We've experienced our own moments of doubt - questioning if we've actually got what it takes. We like to think we've got a certain kind of grit, but we're not superhuman either. Challenges in the landscape, ultimately challenge us, and it raises natural questions about permanency.


Wrestling a tree


It becomes everyone's reality, moving to the country however - that nothing ever happens, without your personal initiative and resources. I would suggest, this is a reality for anyone living in suburbia too. Just make sure you get the priorities right, if you're in it for the long haul. Take the time to determine what must come first, and what must come last (if at all).

After our initial mistakes, we still hope to be here for a long time. We were fortunate enough to recognise our mistakes early, and halt all unnecessary projects, until we redressed the errors. We're still doing that.

So don't think, because your priorities were initially wrong, they cannot be fixed. Just stop what you're doing, figure our the priorities, then focus on achieving them, from the top, down. Be mature enough to recognise, what has to stop, in order to achieve permanency.


We got some things right!


Now, I can't speak for more precise planning strategies (we missed that boat, originally) but I wanted to point to some blog authors who have written exactly about that.

Farmer Liz from Eight Acres, wrote about Planning a property using permaculture. Which is how to consider designing your property, from a permaculture perspective.

Then Leigh from Five Acres And A Dream, wrote about A Master Plan, and I link to her latest update (for now) in 2016.


Keep everything in perspective


One last thing to mention before I close, is the less debt you can get into, the more time you will have, to be on the property. I know avoiding debt entirely, isn't going to be an option for most people. However, its worth considering how you can minimise it, by sticking to a budget. Which is another reason to say goodbye to any unnecessary luxuries.

Consider the real luxuries to be had in the country, often don't cost anything at all. They're the surreal moments, experienced so close to nature, it becomes personal. It's also being able to go outside in your pyjamas, and have no-one raise eyebrows at your incredibly ridiculous, and highly impractical, fluffy slippers. It's not questioning your sanity either, when a great deal of your day, is spent talking to animals and feeding the worms.

So always think twice before spending money on a luxury, to move to the country. You will probably discover, it won't be what you need in the long run.

Anyone want to recommend more traps, to avoid, in order to achieve permanency in the country? Or anywhere you live?